The knock-on effect of the spread of coronavirus on all our lives cannot be underestimated and it is not surprising that many of us are worried about our personal safety and that of our families.
A significant number of concerned clients have contacted us since the outbreak of the pandemic, worried about the consequences of either not having made a will or having a will that is out of date or invalid. What about those, or their families that are worried about their ability to make a will, or alter one, if they are unwell. We are happy to reassure everyone that we have a well-tested system for drafting or amending wills very quickly in spite of the difficulties posed by the current lockdown and social-distancing measures in place.
Taking your instructions
Under normal circumstances we will always offer to visit a client at home, particularly when they are poorly, to take instructions about their new, or revised, will. Obviously, at the moment, this is more difficult as we do not want to compromise the health of the person we are visiting, or members of their family, or, indeed, of our own staff.
However, for the majority of situations, we are able to take instructions either via video link (and there a number of communication channels available to us including Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom), email or telephone. A video call will also enable us to check appropriate identification (as required by our professional regulatory body) and family members can also be present on the call to help with this.
Drafting your will
Once we have taken your instructions, which will involve asking you some questions so that we understand exactly who, when and how, you want to benefit from your estate, we will prepare a first draft for you to check. We will send this to you by email, or by post if you do not have access to email.
Signing your Will
Once you are happy with the draft of your will, we will arrange for you to sign it in the presence of two witnesses (who must be independent). Witnessing a will correctly is essential in order to ensure its validity.
We appreciate that this element of making a will is the most difficult in the current circumstances, particularly if we are unable to be present. We work with a number of healthcare professionals who have the right equipment to keep everyone safe so, with their help, we can organise a visit for you if there is no sensible alternative.
We are able to supervise you and your two witnesses (who could be healthcare professionals) signing your will via a video link. Alternatively, we can provide guidance upon how your will may be signed at your direction if distance has to be kept and/or you are not able to physically sign. This also limits the risk of having people very close to the person making the will.
Once you have signed your will and it has been witnessed, you can return it to us for safekeeping or we can arrange for it to be delivered to us securely.
We are able to take instructions and prepare a first draft very quickly - and we will always prioritise urgent cases.
The drawbacks of not making, or updating, a will
The only reason why someone would actively choose not to make a will is if they genuinely had no interest at all in who inherits their estate. In practice, very few people actually fall into this category but there still exist too many myths (and a degree of superstition) around making a will. We all need to stop and think – who do I want to inherit my assets when I die? Once the question has been answered, the solution is very straightforward.
If you die intestate i.e. without a will, spouses, civil partners and children are all first in line to inherit (there is a prescriptive approach to who gets what), followed by other close relatives in descending order of consanguinity, regardless of whether or not you wanted them to benefit from your estate.
There are also cases where a will you may have made many years ago either does not reflect your current wishes (for instance, some of the beneficiaries named in your will may have died, or you may no longer wish them to inherit) or needs to change because you have divorced. In either scenario, we would advise you to update your will which is equally as straightforward as creating a new will, even if you are unwell and / or shielding.
Creating a General Power of Attorney
Finally, we are also finding that clients are concerned about how they will manage their financial affairs if they are ill and / or self-isolating. The answer (providing you have mental capacity) is to create a general (or ordinary) power of attorney (GPA). This allows you to appoint one or more people (your attorneys) to deal with your financial affairs at your direction and sign on your behalf.
Again, we can deal with this remotely by taking instructions by phone or via video link and can have the documents ready for your approval within 48 hours of confirmation of your instructions providing that you have also complied with our regulatory and firm requirements. If you already have a GPA or Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) in place, we can also advise you on how your attorney(s) can help you. If we already hold your original power of attorney documents, we can provide you or your attorneys with certified copies of the documents without delay. You can find more information about a GPA and how it differs from an LPA on our website.
All the above information is designed to reassure you that it is never too late to tidy up your affairs so that you and your family can find peace of mind. The old adage, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ has never been truer as it is today. Thanks to technology, we have been able to adapt the way in which we prepare wills, along with the help of our healthcare professional contacts, so that we can continue to deliver a seamless service to our clients. Please do not hesitate to contact me or any member of the private client team for any advice relating to the making of a will or power of attorney.