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01 Apr 2020

Wills & Probate

Wills & Probate: Did you know that you can still make a Will whilst we are in lockdown?

These are worrying times. Sadly, the rapid spread of COVID-19 is making many of us anxious and uncertain about the future, and over recent weeks, law firms across the world have seen a sharp rise in the number of people wanting to put their affairs in order.

Laura Selby, Harding Evans’ Head of Wills and Probate, explains how her team is here to help anyone who’s concerned about making a Will while the country is in lockdown.

We understand people’s concerns but while it is always sensible to be prepared, our advice is not to panic. Although the country is on lockdown, we’re still able to help.

To deal with the current demand we are seeing for our Will writing service, we’ve increased the number of staff who are available to take initial calls. We’ve also adapted our normal processes so that we can process cases quickly and easily, without needing to meet our clients face-to-face.

If you would like to speak to us about making a Will, we’ll make the process as simple and as seamless as possible. One of our team will take your initial call and then arrange a telephone or video call appointment with one of our experienced lawyers. Based on your instructions, we will draft your Will and depending on what technology you have available to you, will email or post it out to you. Once you have approved your draft Will, we’ll provide you with clear instructions on how to sign and witness the Will to ensure it is valid.

Two people need to witness you signing the Will and there are strict formalities to follow to ensure it is done correctly, which is clearly proving more difficult than usual with the social distancing measures that are currently in place. To help with this, we have been providing detailed instructions to our clients to ensure their Wills are executed properly. Where possible, we are also able to view the process via video technology to ensure the testator and the witnesses complete the process properly.

The Law Society is currently liaising with the Government to try and bring forward urgent legislation to change the requirements for witnessing Wills. In the meantime, it is very important to follow the current Government guidance of remaining at least two metres apart so we are urging witnesses to remain at that distance whilst remembering it is necessary for them to be in the line of sight of the testator, in order to comply with the requirements of the Wills Act 1837.

Do I need professional legal advice?

We would encourage anyone who is thinking about writing their Will to obtain professional legal advice, so that they can be assured that their Will is prepared properly. Often, during our telephone conversations, we raise questions and point out unintended consequences that clients would not have thought of without obtaining our advice.

Why is it so important to have a Will in place?

We cannot stress enough how important is it to have a properly prepared Will in place. It provides peace of mind that your estate will be dealt with as you want and should make the process much easier for those you leave behind.

Some things you may not know about preparing a Will

  • It is thought that around 60 per cent of the adult UK population does not have a Will, which means that when they die, they will die ‘intestate’, leaving ancient laws to determine who receives their estate.
  • Couples often assume their partner will inherit everything if they die, but if you are not legally married or not in a civil partnership, your assets are likely to pass automatically to one or more of your nearest living blood relatives.
  • For married couples and civil partners, if there is no valid Will, your spouse or civil partner may not receive everything if you also have a child. They will receive all personal possessions whatever their value and all the assets (including solely owned property and, in some cases, jointly owned property) up to the value of £270, 000, but anything above this amount is divided in two, with half going to any surviving child(ren) (at the age of 18) and half to the surviving spouse/civil partner. This may end up with unintended inheritance tax consequences.
  • You can be as young as 18 to make a Will and there is no upper age limit; you just need to be mentally capable of understanding what you are doing and the implications of signing your Will.

Things to consider

  • One of the most important decisions is who you trust to distribute your estate. This could be a close relative, close friend or a professional, such as a solicitor. The role of executor is crucial to ensuring your wishes are followed.
  • You should also consider the following when making your will:
    • Care arrangements and appointing a guardian to look after children under 18
    • Who you wish to benefit from your will, specifying who receives which assets
    • Instructions and wishes regarding your funeral
    • Specific instructions for any pets

If you have any questions or would like to know more, please contact us by either calling 01633 244233 or by sending an email to laura.selby@hevans.com

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