Coping With Demand Whilst Complying With Advice

The sector is in an unprecedented position with Will making on the rise whilst the ability to use traditional methods no longer a viable option.

Whilst rules in Scotland regarding the use of video conferencing facilities to witness a Will have been relaxed in recent days, private client departments in England and Wales are still finding innovative solutions to deal with the uplift in demand whilst remaining compliant with the current laws.

The ability to align best practice approaches whilst complying with governmental advice is difficult. However Today’s Wills and Probate would like to help.

Despite restrictions imposed because of remote working, the industry is committed to embracing its key worker status and the following contributions offer a snapshot and collage of the good practice taking place in extremely challenging circumstances.

Heledd Wyn, associate of the private client department at Gregg Latchams, commented:

“We are encouraging people to work electronically, communicate by phone/email/video conferencing etc.

“We are sending out instructions to sign with the wills.

“We will continue to use specialist capacity assessors to assist – people like TSF consultants and Nellie Supports have already given us details of how they will help.

“We’ve seen a number of queries and are working hard to service them – especially as will writers are now ‘key workers’!”

Jane Burbridge, partner of Wills, Probate, Tax and Trusts department at Forbes Solicitors, said:

“The main issue we are having with not currently seeing clients in the office, is clients arranging their own witnesses for signing their Wills.

“We are suggesting to clients that they could sign their Will in the garden, asking their neighbours to witness over the fence or through a window. If clients can only get one witness, we are offering to visit clients to witness on the driveway or doorstep, exercising social distancing and following government guidelines. Everyone should use their own pen and preferably wear gloves.

“Our Wills are bound with a plastic front and back sheet which can be wiped down if necessary as an extra precaution. Once restrictions are lifted and we can see clients in the office, as an additional reassurance for clients who have arranged their own witnesses, we are inviting clients to come into the office if they wish to go through and sign the Will with a solicitor present.”

Stephen Patch, partner at Shoosmiths, commented:

“With face to face meetings no longer possible we are offering the option of meetings via telephone or videoconferencing in order to obtain the information needed to draft a will. Once drafted the will can then be emailed to the client for their approval.

“If there is a concern surrounding a client’s mental capacity and a doctor’s report is required confirming capacity, given the current pressures on the NHS and GP’S practices, this could prove a lengthy process and one that will remain difficult to overcome even with the aid of technology.

“When it comes to the signing of a valid will the rules around having two witnesses present at the same time is also proving particularly challenging in light of government advice and social distancing. Our response has been to email wills to clients wherever possible and asking them to make arrangements for suitable witnesses to visit them while maintaining distance as far as possible.

“With electronic signatures not being an option (at least for the time being) and until further specific guidance are issued, we are also advising our clients who wish to make a will to follow the legal requirements as far as possible as well as returning a separate document along with their will which confirms that:

  • they understand the will fully and that it reflects their instructions and intentions.
  • they have told their witnesses that they have read and understood the contents of their will and have signed and dated it in front of both witnesses, who both saw them sign it.
  • there are no errors, omissions or spelling mistakes in the will. If there are, that they and their witnesses have put their initials besides any changes in each other’s presence.
  • both witnesses have signed in front of them and printed their full names, address and occupations below their signatures.
  • neither of their two witnesses, their spouse or civil partner, are a beneficiary of their will and that they are over 18.

“The above document (and which can easily be downloaded from our website) could be shown as evidence if there was a challenge of the validity of the will and would help in establishing the circumstances surrounding it.”

Michael Portz, PR Manager at Stephensons Solicitors LLP, commented:

“Stephensons offers a range of different options to help clients make a Will without having to come into to see us. We have a range of telephone, Skype and FaceTime appointments available and those seeking to make a Will can complete a SmartForm on our website which enables us to get a basic draft of their Will prepared before we speak to them on the phone to confirm their instructions.

“At the forefront of our minds is simplifying this process as much as possible whilst at the same time observing Will formalities in relation to testamentary capacity and execution.

“As a firm, we have a facility to use online capacity assessments. As it stands, all our distance work is disclaimed in relation to testamentary capacity and execution of the Will as a protective measure for the firm.”

How is your private client department or independent will writing business adapting its processes and procedures in order to cope with increased demand whilst complying with governmental advice? 

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