The coronavirus pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to our way of life, and the Government guidance for the public evolves on a daily basis. The current advice is to distance ourselves socially, and this is having a profound way on the way we work.
The challenges we face
The current government advice to “stay at home” means we can’t meet you face-to-face. This causes difficulties, as we have a responsibility when writing a Will to assess the client’s capacity, ensure that they are not being coerced or unduly influenced in any way, and to ensure that Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) are signed and witnessed correctly. Normally, we do this when we meet with our clients face to face.
What is the solution?
Unfortunately, there is no immediate or easy fix, but we’re taking practical steps to overcome these difficulties including:
- Conducting meetings by phone or by videoconference. Instructions can be taken and followed up by telephone, by videoconference or by e-mail.
- Asking clients to arrange suitable witnesses to witness the signing of the Will. Witnesses are advised to follow Government advice and maintain a separation of at least two metres from each other and the person signing the Will. We can oversee the signing of the Will by telephone or by video call, if necessary. We would recommend this extra safeguard particularly for our most vulnerable clients.
- Assisting with the signing of Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) via phone or video call. The client will be asked to arrange suitable witnesses and follow a similar process to the process for signing Wills, outlined above. As LPAs can be slightly trickier to sign (there is a strict and set format), where appropriate, we’ll be on hand assist with the signing of the documents remotely.
We can’t act for you unless we’ve satisfied ourselves as to your identity. This is a challenge as we can’t meet you to verify the actual identity documents. We’re coming up with new ways to overcome this issue using video calls and emails.
The Wills Act 1837 still governs the way a Will is validly executed. The world has changed significantly in the last 200 years but the Act hasn’t been updated to reflect that we are now living in a digital age. The government recently officially accepted the Law Commission’s opinion that electronic signatures on contracts and many deeds are already legally valid in England and Wales. Currently, Wills and LPAs remain an exception to this. Perhaps this pandemic will change this, and bring the Wills Act into the digital age?
How we can help
During this period, we understand that many clients are experiencing a range of difficulties, but rest assured that we are here to support our clients in these uncertain times. If you need assistance with your Will or putting a Lasting Power of Attorney in place, or any other legal issue, please contact us.
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