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COVID-19: An increased demand for Wills and what you need to know.

Writing a Will is a subject which many of us find difficult to broach. We spend our lives working to provide for ourselves and our families, yet there are still so many of us who have not made adequate provisions to protect all that we’ve worked so hard for. The circumstances we have found ourselves in recently have raised a lot of uncertainty. COVID-19 has caused a significant jump in the requirement for Wills. A study by deVere Group reported a 76% increase in demand during the peak of lockdown. The main contributing factor here was the worrying increase in deaths in the UK.

Solicitors called for the government to change the law surrounding the signing and witnessing of Wills. The strict social distancing measures that were in place meant that a Will being signed in the presence of two witnesses presented quite a challenge.

Although we have recently seen the relaxation of these measures, concerns still remain around COVID-19 and the two-metre social distance remains in place. Additionally, the formalities to make a Will valid prove even more difficult for those who are shielding.

Relaxing the rules on probate legislation is a topic that has been discussed between the Ministry of Justice and the Law Society. This could see the use of video conferencing in the witnessing of Wills, or even reducing the number of witnesses required, a significant change to the existing procedure.

Currently, for a Will to be valid it must be signed in the presence of two witnesses and signed by those witnesses. This also applies where people wish to make changes to their existing Will. This law has been in place since 1837 and it remains uncertain whether new legislation would be revoked once social distancing restrictions are lifted and the pandemic has come to an end. The Ministry of Justice has made it clear that any change to the rules must be a balance between the risk of fraud and the protection of the vulnerable.

Different provisions apply to military personnel. The 1837 legislation allows for privileged Wills which are made under circumstances where it is not possible to comply with the legal formalities of a Will, those in the armed forces for example may need to take this route.

It’s possible that given current circumstances, a more workable approach will be adopted.

What can be done in the meantime?

There is not yet a law in place to allow for a Will to be witnessed via any other means than in person. Law firms are advising clients that signatures will still be valid as long as each party can see the other sign. It may be the case that this is through a window, doorway or from a safe distance outside. There is also the possibility that neighbours may be able to witness the legal document (provided that they are not beneficiaries and arrange for a safe two-metre distance outside).

McKees, a firm of solicitors in Belfast, have worked with a digital tech developer and a building firm to come up with a new way to overcome these complexities. They set up a pop-up legal signing station to enable the signing and witnessing of documents to be carried out safely. We may see this adopted across the UK if the restrictions remain, or like we have seen recently, some areas revert back to stricter lockdown measures.

How can we help?

If you are unsure where to get help in relation to any of the above, it is important you seek legal advice. We help to make writing a Will simple, affordable and easy. All we need is a short amount of your time to discuss your wishes.

By taking the important decision to write a Will, you’ll give yourself the peace of mind that you’re safeguarding your possessions for your loved ones, and preventing them from having to deal with any unnecessary complexity at such a difficult time.

Wills advice and drafting tool

In partnership with Mills & Reeve LLP, we developed a Wills advice and drafting tool, available to all BMA members.

If you would like more information, about Wills and how we can help you, please get in touch >