Will writing and social distancing: How Butcher & Barlow can assist.
The coronavirus outbreak has prompted a surge in demand for Wills, Power’s of Attorney and general succession planning. Yet in this period of social distancing, and in particular in light of the advice to the over 70’s to self isolate, the process is made tricky by the outdated practices around executing formal documents. The Law Society has approached both the Ministry of Justice and the Solicitors Regulatory Authority about looking at ways to deformalise the signing of Wills and making it quicker to register Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA) but there is no change in sight as yet.
Mike Bracegirdle, Head of Agriculture and a specialist in estate planning examines how Butcher and Barlow can continue to provide advice and guidance on all private clients matter regardless of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
There are currently strict rules as regards how a Will is witnessed which if not followed correctly will render the Will invalid. The current rules are:
- The Will must be signed by the Testator, who must have capacity at the time of signing. In certain circumstances a mark made by the Testator will be acceptable.
- The Testator must sign the Will in the presence of two independent witnesses, who must immediately add their signature following the Testator’s signature and add their name, address and occupation.
- The independent witnesses must not be a member of the Testator’s family and should not be a beneficiary under the Will. Contrary to popular belief an Executor or Trustee named in the Will can act as a witness.
- The Will should then be dated.
Given the current guidelines for social distancing as advised by the Government, it is clear that the current requirements may be difficult if not impossible to comply with.
The Government is currently looking at a number of options taken from other jurisdictions but it is unclear whether any changes would be of a temporarily nature whilst the pandemic continues or permanently change the current laws which have been in place since 1837.
Lasting Powers of Attorney have similar requirements for witnessing, and in addition require a Certificate Provider who comes from a strict category of individuals who have to confirm that the Donor has both capacity and understanding of the document registered at the Office of the Public Guardian. The registration process takes between 8 and 10 weeks currently.
How can Butcher and Barlow help?
Whilst in line with Government guidelines we are not conducting face to face meetings, we continue to take instructions for Will’s over the phone, or initially send out via an email a questionnaire for completion, then follow up with a phone call.
We will then prepare a draft Will or LPA and email to you for your approval.
Once approved, we will send the engrossed document with detailed instructions advising how the Will should be executed.
We are able to supervise the signing of a Will using video conferencing. This ensures that we have a record on our file that the correct formalities were complied with in the event that the Will is contested on the grounds of validity at a later date.
The law Society continue to update their members on the position and will be advising clients with this is mind.
Butcher & Barlow have a team of Private Client specialists who are happy to assist whatever your circumstances. Although is accordance with Government guidelines, our offices remain closed, the Private Client Team remain available for advice and guidance on any existing or new matter and please do not hesitate to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or email your legal adviser directly.
To view Butcher & Barlow’s own working practices, please visit www.butcher-barlow.co.uk/news.