Making a Will during the Covid-19 Pandemic
We understand that the current situation is worrying for people, especially for those who have been identified as particularly ‘vulnerable’. During this time of uncertainty, we have seen an increase in the number of people wishing to ensure that their affairs are in order. Reflecting the experience of firms across the country, Jobling Gowler has seen a significant increase in the number of instructions for new Wills .
Ensuring that your Will is legally valid
The rules around signing Wills are very specific. It is important that the rules for drafting and signing a Will are followed, in order that it is deemed valid in law. For your Will to be legally valid, you must:
- Be 18 or over
- Make it voluntarily
- Be of sound mind
- Make it in writing
- Sign it in the presence of 2 witnesses who are both over 18 and who are present at the same time
- Have it signed by your 2 witnesses, in your presence
If you make any changes to your Will, you must follow the same signing and witnessing process identified here. For more information about how to make a valid Will, please visit the Government Website.
Our Normal Practice
In normal circumstances, your specialist solicitor would meet with you in person to discuss your personal requirements. They would check your original ID documents, in order to validate who, you say you are. In doing these things, your solicitor would ensure that items 1-3 (above) are met.
A record of your discussions and the advice you had been given would be made by your solicitor. We call this record a File Note. Your solicitor would provide you with a copy of these file notes to accompany the Client Engagement letter that we will send to you.
Your solicitor would draft your Will, based upon your requirements and provide you with a copy of the draft Will for your approval. They would then discuss the contents of the proposed Will and confirm with you that you understand the contents and that your Will does what you want it to do. This meeting often takes place in person.
Once you are happy with the contents, we would normally meet with you to sign and witness the documents. We would ensure that items 4-6 of the legal requirements, listed above, are fulfilled. The signing of the Will is usually done either at our offices, at your home address, hospital or care home.
During this period of social distancing and isolation, we have adjusted our normal working practices.
During this period of social distancing and isolation, we have adjusted our normal working practices
Your health and welfare are our primary concern during this time. The revised practices are designed to keep you and our staff safe. They also enable us to ensure your that your wishes are upheld, whilst also maintaining the legal requirements for creating valid Wills.
Validating your ID
We are required to validate your identity against two approved identification documents. Usually we ask to see one form of ID which includes a photograph (such as a Driving License or Passport) and one with proof of address (such as a bank statement or utility bill).
During this time, we are not asking to see original documents, but are accepting photocopies or photographs of the same two forms of ID.
To ensure that the requirements for ID verification are fulfilled, we will then carry out an electronic verification of your ID. We use a provider called SmartSearch to do this. SmartSearch does not affect your credit rating, but it may leave a ‘soft’ imprint on your file. By instructing us at this time you are agreeing to us validating your ID in this way. For specific information about SmartSearch, please visit their website https://www.smartsearch.com/sectors/legal
Taking your instructions
We know that your circumstances are unique. Your Will, therefore, will also need to be tailored to suit your needs.
We can offer appointments by telephone or by video using either Skype or Microsoft Teams to ensure that we understand your wishes fully.
As we will not be taking your instructions at our offices, during this time, we are required to undertake additional steps to comply with Consumer Contracts Regulations (2013). Under these regulations, we will ask you to sign an Authority to begin work straight away.
Making a Will that reflects your wishes and protects your family is often relatively simple. However, depending on your personal circumstances, making a Will can sometimes be quite complex. For example, if you have children from a previous marriage, have vulnerable dependents or property abroad, special provisions may need to be considered. It is important that we enable you to understand your Will. You need to be able to understand what you are asking us to do and the consequences of those instructions. We will do our best to explain everything to you. If you do not understand anything that is being explained to you, please tell us and ask us to explain it more fully.
We will continue to keep a written record of our discussions with you and will provide you with a copy of this File Note. We hope that this will enable you to understand the contents of the Will that you have asked us to draft for you and to check that it reflects your wishes.
Signing and Witnessing Documents
The Government’s requirements for social distancing pose some specific challenges; particularly in respect of items 5 and 6, listed above.
Under the Wills Act 1837, it is not permitted to witness a Will via video conferencing facilities as both witnesses must be physically present. It is widely acknowledged within the profession that the current situation does not lend itself to ideal solutions.
Based on advice from the Law Society and the Solicitors Regulation Authority and in accordance with the current Government directives, we understand that the following procedures enable you to sign your Will safely and validly during this period.
Available options for signing and witnessing your Will
You will be offered two options during this time. Both options will be discussed with you so that the best arrangements can be made for your circumstances:
We will send your drafted Wills in the post, together with accompanying instructions for signing and witnessing the documents. You will be asked to make arrangements for suitable witnesses to visit you while maintaining social distancing.
Such arrangements might include asking your neighbours to witness you signing your Will outside in your garden with each of you maintaining a minimum distance of 2 meters throughout. Everyone should use their own pen and wear gloves.
We would recommend that you record this by video, to ensure that it could not be contested in the future.
We will send your drafted Wills in the post for you to review. We will arrange a time to visit you at your home address. We will speak to you via telephone, ask you to hold the document up to the window before signature and watch you sign your Will through the window. You will then be asked to pass the signed document, through the letterbox, for your Solicitor and an accompanying Witness to sign outside. (The accompanying Witness will usually be another member of Jobling Gowler staff, but does not have to be). Everyone should use their own pen and wear gloves. Witnesses will travel to the property separately and maintain social distancing throughout.
A detailed record of the process undertaken will be made by the solicitor and sent to you through the post. You will be asked to agree and sign the same and return it to the office so that it can be stored with your file.
In the development of this policy, we have followed Government guidance and advice provided by the Law Society and Solicitors Regulation Authority. We believe that the adjusted practices enable us to ensure your that your wishes are upheld, whilst also maintaining the legal requirements for valid Will drafting. We hope that these provisions provide you with some comfort and reassurance that we are prioritising your needs at this time.
If you have any specific concerns or requirements in relation to these procedures, please discuss them with your solicitor. Alternatively, please contact Emily Raw, Managing Partner, via email at email@example.com.