Expert Views Of Will Making In A Coronavirus Crisis
With some countries in complete lockdown due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis and at present the UK in the ‘suppression’ phase but with the advice of much less contact and socialising as pubs, restaurants, theatres and other social outlets shutting their doors to the public, what does this mean for the Wills industry which relies on face to face contact and home visits when making a Will?
The Covid-19 pandemic does put things in perspective in highlighting just how crucial it is to make a Will or update an existing Will. Consequently, with a probable increase in demand for will making, wills service providers will no doubt be concerned about how they can continue to make Wills for their clients in the event of a ‘lockdown’. There will be a lot of advisors worried about carrying out face to face meetings, in particular with vulnerable clients, and how it will affect themselves too.
With the Law as it stands not giving much wriggle room, we asked experts in the industry what measures/steps everyone can follow to fulfil their professional obligations when they may be prohibited from seeing clients.
Eleanor Evans, partner at Hugh James said:
“The outbreak of Covid-19 in the UK population will, for many, bring into sharp focus the importance of having in place an up-to-date will. Should it become necessary for law firms to encourage solicitors to work at home, restrict face to face contact with clients, or even close their doors temporarily, this could impact on the ability of clients to put in place new wills or review their existing wills.
“For clients who are self-isolating or do not wish have a face-to-face meeting, there are other options available. Many firms offer telephone-based will writing services in which they take instructions and provide advice over the telephone, before providing draft and final wills via email or post. In the event of a lockdown, it is likely that some law firms will be able to continue offering these services via staff who are working from home. Another option is to use an online will-writing service; such services may be entirely online or may include some telephone support to guide you through the options. These services, particularly online services, tend to be better suited to those with straightforward estates who wish to make simple wills; for anything more complex, it is better to seek more detailed and holistic advice. In usual circumstances, those with complex needs will usually benefit from a face to face meeting with a specialist solicitor, but if face to face contact is restricted, there is no reason a detailed conference could not take place over the telephone or by video call.
“The position in relation to vulnerable clients, including those in nursing homes or hospitals, is likely to be more complex. Such people often need face to face meetings as it may not be possible to take their instructions using other methods, and there are more likely to be concerns about issues such as capacity and undue influence. There may be a number of lawyers who remain willing to carry out visits to such clients, but hurdles will be faced if, for example, nursing homes and hospitals are restricting visits. In such cases it will probably be necessary to liaise closely with family members and relevant parties such as nursing home staff, in order to try and facilitate the most appropriate arrangements for meetings to take place with these vulnerable clients. It goes without saying that those undertaking visits will need to be mindful of guidance regarding close contact with individuals in order to protect themselves and others as far as possible.”
Emily Deane STEP Technical Counsel further commented:
“In light of the current concerns around coronavirus, members should consider giving clients, particularly those that are vulnerable, the option of meeting via telephone or video-conferencing. However there is currently no confirmation that e-signatures or video-witnessing will be accepted. Practitioners are therefore in a difficult position as it may not be possible to comply with the government’s guidance to reduce social contact whilst also arranging for wills to be validly signed. STEP’s recommendation is that the government’s guidance should be every practitioner’s starting point. In practice this may mean sending wills to clients and asking them to make arrangements for suitable witnesses to visit them while maintaining distance so far as possible. However, it will be for each practitioner to make a decision on the merits of the particular case and the relative risks to both the client and the practitioner.”