Making or updating a Will during the Coronavirus Lockdown

May 11, 2020 | Meg Wilton

making a will coronavirusThe current outbreak of coronavirus has prompted a sharp increase in the number of people interested in making or updating a Will. However, just as the demand for Will writing services has increased, so the strict lockdown measures put into place by the UK government at the end of March has had significant implications for a process that usually requires face-to-face contact.

Is it possible to create a Will during the coronavirus lockdown?

As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. While the processes Solicitors ordinarily follow to write and update Wills may have been disrupted by the current lockdown, it is certainly still possible to create or update a Will during this time. Like many other industries, Solicitors across the country have quickly adapted their ways of working to remain compliant with quarantine restrictions while still providing essential services such as Will writing to their clients.

How can I work with a Solicitor to make or amend a Will during the lockdown?

Much of the preparatory work of constructing and drafting a Will can be done without face-to-face contact. You can instruct your Solicitor and receive advice from them over the phone or by using a video calling service such as Skype or Zoom. Once your Will has been drafted, your Solicitor can then email or post it to you in order for you to read and sign it.

Solicitors are fortunate that their work is mostly suitable for remote working. Moreover, when working in connection with the preparation and execution of Wills, Solicitors are considered key workers by the Ministry of Justice.

While arrangements may be different for each person, the important thing is that your Solicitor should be flexible enough to accommodate your needs and work with you to make arrangements that suit you.

How do I get my Will witnessed during the coronavirus lockdown or while self-isolating?

The part of Will writing most impacted by the current restrictions is undoubtedly the witnessing process. By law, the Will-maker must sign their Will in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the Will before it is considered valid. These witnesses can then be called upon when the Will-maker has passed away, to testify that the Will was signed voluntarily and without coercion.

To complicate matters further, there are several restrictions dictating who can be a valid witness. Witnesses must not be under the age of 18, be blind or partially sighted, or be without the mental capacity to understand what they are witnessing. Crucially, witnesses also cannot be named beneficiaries in the Will, nor can they be married to a named beneficiary.

The chances are that if you are self-isolating and not living alone, you likely live with the people you intend to name as beneficiaries in your Will – children, a partner, or parents or other relatives. These people are therefore not eligible to act as witnesses, which could make finalising your Will difficult.

There are a number of ways to get around this problem while still following the NHS guidelines on social distancing. One route many people are taking is to ask nearby neighbours, friends or colleagues to witness their Will. It is possible to arrange a meeting in a garden or driveway where each signatory can stand at a safe distance and still witness the Will being signed. To minimise contact, you can sign using your own pen, then place the document on a surface and step away before allowing each witness to approach in turn and sign. For extra safety, you may want to request your witnesses wear gloves while handling the document.

It may seem strange but following a procedure like this will ensure your Will can be legally finalised without needlessly putting yourself or others at risk.

Can I and my chosen witnesses sign the Will electronically?

No. While many aspects of writing a Will can be moved online during this time, the law still requires a “wet” signature before the Will is considered legally valid. Due to the ease with which e-signatures can be tampered with or forged, it is still necessary for the Will to be signed by hand and in the physical presence of two witnesses.

What should I do if I cannot find people who are willing to be my witness?

It is understandable that neighbours or friends may feel hesitant about travelling to act as witnesses for your Will when the government has restricted all journeys except those considered essential. However, government guidance clearly states that travelling to help vulnerable people is considered an exception and helping someone get their affairs in order at this time can be considered helping them under these rules. As long as social distancing rules and NHS guidance are followed, there is no reason that you cannot arrange to finalise your Will during this time.

If your chosen witnesses are reluctant to travel, it might help to explain this to them to allay any worries they might be having. If they still don’t feel sure, however, it is not worth pressuring them – simply ask another neighbour or friend who might feel more comfortable helping you.

Are there likely to be any temporary changes to the law?

The law around Wills as it stands, has not changed, and it is still a legal requirement to have two witnesses physically sign your Will before it can be considered valid. Given the exceptional circumstances, however, The Law Society and The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) are currently lobbying the government to temporarily relax these requirements.

For the latest government advice on coronavirus, please visit:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public

making a will coronavirusHow Elite Law Solicitors can help

Meg Wilton is a Chartered Legal Executive and the Head of our Private Client Department. She can provide specialist legal advice in relation  preparing or amending Wills.

If you have any queries relating to any of the issues mentioned in this article, please get in touch with Meg by calling 0800 086 2929, emailing info@elitelawsolicitors.co.uk or completing our Free Online Enquiry Form.

The content of this article is for general information only. The information in this article is not legal or professional advice.

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