Have will writing firms changed quickly enough to the new normal?
The Coronavirus and resulting lockdown have changed the way many of us deliver legal services to clients. From first instruction meetings to running court cases, we are all adapting to the need for less face to face contact and employing online means to get the same outcomes.
The legal requirements in preparing wills have, so far, not been amended in England and Wales to adjust to the impact of the pandemic. Because no changes have been made to the legislation, it is as important as ever that expert legal advice is obtained in writing, signing and witnessing wills.
Comments on how our firm has adapted and the consideration have been given in a recent article at Today’s Wills and Probate by Carrie Duncan, head of our wills and trusts team, and Ryan Taylor, solicitor in our contentious probate team.
Carrie has said:
“During this pandemic, it has become apparent to me that despite public perception of solicitors sat in oak panelled offices, surrounded by volumes of leather bound books and mountains of paperwork we are, in the main, pretty forward thinking and equipped with all the technology we need to operate in the online market place. We’ve just never had to do it before. Until now.
“Whilst still operating within the confines of the Wills Act 1837, we may not be able to use video or online technology to actually execute Wills, but we are fully set up to take instructions and produce Wills remotely. We can use video conferencing tools to satisfy ourselves that the client has testamentary capacity and is not under any undue influence, prepare electronic draft wills and email them to clients with clear instructions for execution. This has the potential to make the whole process quicker and more efficient. And new concepts that we introduced during lockdown, like asking clients to video execution of their Wills or offering to observe proper execution of the Will by video link, may become sensible best practice even when social distancing is a thing of the past.
“We are all now living in a world where we rely on the internet to stay connected and we need to use a screen to enjoy a coffee, glass of wine or ‘pub quiz’ with our friends and family. The firms who will be successful in this new normal will be those who can make their voice heard in that online market, who can make themselves more easily accessible online and particularly on smaller devices like smart phones and tablets and who can produce enough engaging online content to showcase the expertise of their staff, the strength of their brand, their online capability and their willingness to adapt to change.”
Ryan further commented:
“There is currently a lot of interest from the public in updating their wills or putting them in place for the first time. When the community is faced with a crisis and perhaps our own mortality, then it is understandable that planning for the worst becomes a priority.
“Social distancing of course makes taking legal advice and execution of documents slightly more tricky – but this is no reason to cut corners right now. For wills to be useable when the time comes, it is imperative that formalities are met and appropriate advice is received. Our firm has put in place measures to allow clients to receive the advice about their wishes and estates, and then enable them to correctly sign and have the document witnessed once prepared. Ensuring this proper signing and witnessing takes place may now have us using different methods such as outdoor signings or witnessing through windows – but this is all about the profession adapting to the circumstances to continue to deliver for clients.”
“Perhaps now more than ever, independent advice and will drafting will be an invaluable asset to families once a loved one passes away. The changed social climate, isolation and potential internal family pressure may mean many wills are subject to increased scrutiny in the near future. It is easy to see how a vulnerable family member isolated with a person willing to take advantage could lead to undue influence, or how a well-meaning child prepares will but then witnesses the document, or even a neighbour writes a handwritten will but fails to distribute the whole estate.
“Independent advice in preparing the will and executing the document is the simplest way to avoid potential disputes and complexities in future.”
The full article was published on 18 May 2020 and can be found here.
*Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*