Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

This article shines a light on the importance of having a will and keeping it up to date in a ‘socially-distanced’ world. We have experienced a significant increase in requests for wills to be reviewed and redrafted as now more than ever, people seek the peace of mind in knowing that their will is up to date.

As you may know, our trust company, PMW Trust, drafts wills for new and existing clients and the increase in demand occurred at a time when some ingenuity was required to deliver our service remotely. Our in-house solicitor, Julie Rowe, has shared some of her recent experiences.

When should you update your will?

Updating a will is often one of those things that we know we have to do, but never quite get around to. If you haven’t reviewed your will in the last five years, even if you haven’t undergone any significant life changes, you should check that it still reflects your wishes and that it hasn’t been affected by any changes in the law. In more recent years there have been a number of major changes to inheritance tax laws, which have resulted in the need for many people to review their wills, even if their wishes have not changed. If you have undergone a significant life change, then you should also review your will to ensure that it is still valid and that you have included all intended beneficiaries. Significant life events that might affect your will include (but are not limited to):

  • marriage
  • divorce
  • the arrival of new children or grandchildren
  • someone named in your will dies before you
  • your executor dies or is no longer suitable or willing to act

Ensuring your will is up to date could save your beneficiaries time and money when settling your estate and reduce the likelihood of any family disputes.

Writing a will and staying safe

We appreciate that many of our clients are considered clinically vulnerable and may be nervous about the thought of meeting a solicitor face-to-face. With this in mind, we have been providing virtual consultations or telephone calls to discuss wills and manage all aspects of estate planning, without the need for a meeting in person. For those preferring to meet in person we have also provided socially distanced face-to-face meetings.

Recently, the law of wills in England and Wales has been amended to allow remote electronic witnessing of wills under certain conditions, although it is likely this change will only last for two years. This means that wills can now be witnessed using video-link. The type of software used for the video-link is irrelevant, provided the person signing the will and the witnesses have a clear line of sight of the signature in real-time. This is a significant shift in the law to allow for more wills to be updated during a time of uncertainty and anxiety.

While we appreciate for some, virtual witnessing is the only option, we are still encouraging our clients to use physical witnesses where at all possible, as it is more straightforward and does not involve posting the will to witnesses to sign after the video witnessing. The purpose of the witness is to validate the signature of the testator; they do not need to read the will, which would be difficult to avoid if it is posted to them. We have been providing advice to our clients to ensure the safest way to meet required legal obligations in person, whilst abiding by social distancing rules.

During lockdown we had many clients sign their wills at home and to accommodate witnesses, this procedure was conducted in outside areas, including gardens, patios or garages. The clients have either asked close friends or accommodating neighbours to assist. We advised that the will should be placed on a table and that the testator should sign with gloves on, using their own pen and with the witnesses two metres away, in line of sight of the wills. The witnesses could then approach the table once the testator had moved away and countersign, wearing gloves and using their own pen. Signatures can even be witnessed through windows if clients feel particularly uncomfortable about leaving their homes. If you have friends or neighbours who are also looking to update their wills, you could consider a joint signing event in a garden to reduce unnecessary contact with others. Perhaps accompanied by (your own) glass of prosecco! Once the wills have been signed they can be sent to us so that we can check they have been executed correctly.

We have also welcomed clients to sign their wills at our office in Esher, where we have put in place significant procedures to abide by social distancing guidelines.

We understand that during these unprecedented and unfamiliar times the knowledge of knowing your will is up to date can provide immense peace of mind. We want you to know that we are still very much here for you and, protecting you and your future generations is more relevant now than ever.

If you would like to find out more about our Will Writing Service or any of our probate or estate management services, please do not hesitate to contact Julie Rowe, by emailing Julie.rowe@pmw.co.uk or calling 01372 471550.