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The current COVID-19 crisis is causing much concern among people, particularly elderly and vulnerable clients, who are wondering whether it is still possible to make or amend their Wills. Although the current Government restrictions and nationwide lockdown has meant that we are no longer able to meet with clients face-to-face, here at Cleaver Fulton Rankin, our Private Client department is still very much open for business and we have come up with solutions and adaptations to ensure we can continue to provide such a vital service throughout these uncertain times.
Although our day-to-day working environment has changed, our professional standards have not. We are still required to ensure that the client is choosing to make or amend their Will freely and that they fully understand what it is they are doing. Whilst it is now impossible to meet face-to-face in order to ascertain this information, we are able to conduct our meetings using video conferencing technology such as Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp or FaceTime. The use of such technology allows us to see whether the client is alone at home and to satisfy ourselves that they are not being unduly influenced by anyone who stands to benefit from the instructions which are being provided.
Once the Will has been prepared by us, we can then send it to the client by email with detailed instructions on how to have the document printed and prepared for signature.
If the Will extends to more than one page when printed, each page should be numbered and initialled at the bottom of the page by the person making the Will and the two witnesses when the Will is executed. Loose pages must not be paper-clipped or stapled together in any way as this may lead to further queries being raised when the Will comes to be submitted to the Probate Office following the death.
We are still able to provide detailed estate planning and inheritance tax advice and we are continuing to prepare complex Wills to meet the specific needs and requirements of our clients. There is no requirement to make only a basic, simple Will in the current climate unless it is to be a ‘holding’ Will which will then be updated and expanded once circumstances have returned to normal at a later date.
In order to be valid, Wills have to be signed by the person making the Will in the physical presence of two witnesses, who also have to sign the document themselves. Neither witness can be anyone who stands to benefit from the Will, nor be married to any such beneficiary, otherwise the gift to that beneficiary will not be valid. Electronic signatures have become more common place recently, but unfortunately they are still not acceptable for Will signings. There is no confirmation that e-signatures or video-witnessing will be accepted as sufficient execution of Wills and these formalities must be adhered to.
As we are currently in a nationwide lockdown, with people self-isolating, the chances are you will be at home with the very people the Will may intend to benefit. Therefore, getting a Will signed in the presence of two appropriate witnesses is a challenge, but there are ways to achieve this.
For example, you could call your neighbours or your friends and arrange a meeting in your garden or driveway. Everyone should use their own pens, wear gloves and ensure they stand two metres apart. Place the document on a flat surface, such as a table or car bonnet, with each person stepping forward separately to sign the Will. Once complete, the Will should be placed into an envelope and retained safely at home until such time as the current crisis has passed, when the client can then attend at our offices to have the will executed in a more traditional manner. This can allay concerns about undue influence, capacity or execution.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Please contact any member of our Private Client team for more information on how we can assist you in the preparation of your new Will or to prepare an updated version.