How to make a Will (or amend) during COVID-19?
7 August 2020 by James Bird
As a Wills and Probate Solicitor, making a Will for clients has been one of the most common instructions I will receive, and whilst no two Wills are ever the same, the recent pandemic has certainly brought about even more change.
People have been in lockdown and isolation and it has really given them a chance to review their affairs and in many cases, this has led to them reviewing their Wills and realising that since they made them, their wishes and circumstances have changed.
Without a doubt, COVID-19 has brought additional challenges to making a Will but this should not deter anyone from doing so. Before lockdown, it used to be as simple as having an initial instruction appointment to gather all of the information and then having another quick appointment to review the drafts one last time before signing in front of two independent witnesses. Social distancing and lockdown measures have certainly made this a different process now but it is easily overcome – you just have to get a bit more creative.
How to give instructions on a Will?
Before COVID 19 we would have usually offered a face to face appointment to take the instructions (usually lasting up to an hour), we now offer these appointments by different means.
For people who are able to, we offer video appointments on a variety of platforms (such as Facetime, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and WhatsApp). Even if you use a different software we can usually accommodate this as well. This gives us a chance to see you over the camera and also allows us to take copies of your ID which you can hold up to the camera.
For those who are not able to do a video appointment, we can of course offer a straight forward telephone appointment to discuss everything over the phone before sending the drafts.
Before the initial appointment, we also use an online tool called Settify that allows us to send the client a link to a secure online portal where they can complete all of their details and provide information about their assets, wishes, and concerns prior to the appointment for us to review. This is of course completely optional but the feedback from clients so far has been positive as the questions have made them consider other points they might not have originally thought of.
Of course, now that lockdown is easing to a degree, where absolutely necessary we are happy to offer home visits so long as social distancing measures are complied with. This usually means holding appointments in the garden (and so far the weather has held up well for these) whilst wearing masks and having hand sanitiser at the ready.
How to draft a Will?
After receiving the instructions, this aspect has not really changed as drafts can be sent by email (preferable) or by post. Using email is much quicker as many of us are still working from home and are therefore working paperless. However where necessary arrangements can be made for documents to be sent by post (there might just be a slightly longer wait for these to come out due to limited staff in the office).
How to sign a Will?
This is the aspect of making a Will which does pose the most challenging and for some people is the most worrying for them. The rules have always been that the person making the Will (“the Testator”) must sign the document before 2 independent witnesses. The 2 witnesses then sign the Will themselves and complete their details (name, address, and occupation) in front of the Testator, and then the Will is dated. The witnesses cannot be named in the Will, must be 18 or over and for safety we advise should not be a family member of the Testator.
Lockdown Will Signing Suggestions
During a time when nobody was allowed to meet other people outside of their household, this proved to be incredibly challenging to comply with. However, with some outside thinking we came up with the following suggestions for a lockdown Will signing:
- You could ask your neighbours or friends to stand as your independent witnesses.
- We recommend wearing gloves when signing your Will and using a different pen from your witnesses.
- Your witnesses can witness you signing your Will through a window or glass door and the Will can thereafter be passed through the letterbox for them to sign as well.
- As long as your witnesses can see, you could also sign your Will in your back garden, front garden, your neighbour’s garden, patio door, etc.
- If you live in a block of flats your neighbours could witness you sign your Will in the communal part of the building (you can be on different floors as long as they have a clear sight of you signing your Will).
- Unless you are in isolation, you can drive to your friend’s house and remain in your car to sign your Will provided that your friend and one other person (e.g. their spouse or partner) are outside their house and have a clear sight of you signing your Will. You can then pass the Will through the car window or put it in the boot where your friend and one other person can sign it and leave it for you to collect thereafter.
- If you have friends helping you with essential food shopping you could ask them to stand as witnesses when delivering your next shop.
- Your postman, milkman, or any delivery driver that may be willing to witness your signature with another person provided that you maintain the social distancing measures (two metres apart).
Although these still might be applicable (especially if we experience another period of lockdown), with restrictions easing at the time of writing, we are happy to allow clients to come to the office (whilst complying with safety restrictions and guidance) so we can act as witnesses. This usually means signing the Will outside the front of the office.
Can a Will be witnessed over video?
You may also have seen that the government very recently passed new legislation to allow for Wills to be signed via video calls. Given that so many Wills were witnessed this way during lockdown the legislation has been backdated to include Wills signed this way from 31st January 2020. This however only is in force until 31st January 2022. For more details on witnessing by video calls click here to see our related blog. Please remember this should be an absolute last resort method of signing and witnessing a Will.
How much does it cost to make a Will?
Although times have changed drastically in the last year, making a Will is still just as important as it has always been and we are able to accommodate any and all clients in respect of amending an existing Will or making a new Will. Given that we also run a charity campaign for making or amending Wills, there is no reason for you not to have one! Click here for more information about our Wills charity campaign.
Our free Wills scheme is ongoing and despite the Covid-19 crisis, to take part in our free Wills scheme, call 01206 700113 or email [email protected]. For more information on legal updates and changes during the Coronavirus pandemic, visit our Coronavirus Legal Advice hub.