COVID-19: Making Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney in lockdown7th July 2020 1:38 pm Comments Off on COVID-19: Making Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney in lockdown
In these uncertain times, many of us are turning our attention to our personal affairs. One important aspect of this is taking stock of our personal circumstances and making or updating Wills. Something which might have been low on the ‘to do’ list in our ‘pre-lockdown’ lives has suddenly become extremely important, especially as family circumstances with blended families or unmarried partners are increasingly becoming the norm. We are also seeing more clients wishing to prepare Lasting Powers of Attorney, which give your most trusted family or friends the power to make decisions on your behalf in the event that you are taken ill and unable to make them yourself.
There is no need to put this off until restrictions are eased completely. During the entire period of lockdown, we have been open for business throughout and have continued to help our clients to access this vital service by adapting our usual way of working. Although our offices are currently closed to visitors, we are taking instructions from our clients via telephone or video conference call; the draft Wills or Lasting Powers of Attorney are then sent by email (or post if necessary) for review and approval.
Once they are approved, Wills are one of the few legal documents that must be signed in the physical presence of two independent witnesses to be legally valid. Electronic signatures, whilst acceptable for some types of legal documents, have no validity when it comes to Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney due to concerns that this would increase opportunities for fraud and abuse.
There is consultation going on towards a potential reform of these rules to allow (for example) witnessing the signing of Wills via video call, and the Law Society and The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) are lobbying the government to relax the strict witnessing requirements. However, it is not certain if any changes will occur – and even if they do, they are not expected anytime soon. They certainly have not been introduced yet.
The signing of Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney has proved to be a challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, we have adapted by arranging the signing of these documents by way of a ‘drive through’ service in our office car park (fries, unfortunately, not included!). Our clients sign their documents without needing to leave their vehicle, within a clear line of sight of two staff members observing from a safe distance, who then sign afterwards as witnesses. If everyone uses their own pens and washes their hands thoroughly before and after, any risk can be minimised.
As an alternative, where our clients are either completely self-isolating or are not able to drive to us, then there are two options. We can send the final bound copies of the Will in the post to our clients, together with detailed signing instructions. They will then need to enlist the help of two neighbours or local friends who could meet, for example over the garden fence or across the driveway or through an open door or downstairs window. If this is not possible, then we can attend our clients’ home addresses to witness their signature at a distance in the same way.
In summary, if you are thinking of making a Will or Lasting Power of Attorney, please don’t let the current restrictions put you off – we can help, even in these strange times. Email us on PrivateClient@colemans.co.uk, or call on 01628 631 051 to ask to speak to a solicitor in our Private Client team.
This post was written by Colemans Solicitors LLP