Wills And Probate Sector Law Changes Roundup 2019-2020

It’s been a turbulent year, notwithstanding the Covid-19 pandemic, as the legal industry has been forced to rapidly adapt in order to maintain business continuity, while also adhering and adjusting to new laws and legislation over the past 12 months.

Prior to Covid-19, the legal landscape was already changing at a rapid pace. With the virus impacting on a global scale, it disrupted every workplace in every sector, causing the legal sector to pause dramatically and many suddenly found themselves in survival mode. This forced firms to reassess their business strategy, while adjusting and settling into a new way of working.

There has been a ‘mixed bag’ of new laws, some of which were prior to the pandemic and some ensued because of the pandemic, while others might have taken a long time to come to fruition or would never have reached Parliament in the first place.

Let’s take a look at the changes in laws and legislation which has been enforced in the last year…..

Video Wills

In July, The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced that video witnessed Wills will be made legal during the coronavirus pandemic.

The planned changes to the law, which will be backdated to 31 January 2020, will allow Wills to be witnessed virtually in England and Wales. The move will allow people to legally record their final wishes, during the pandemic, remotely.

The UK MoJ has since announced the implementation of secondary legislation under the Electronic Communications Act 2000 which can be backdated to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic on 31 January 2020. The new legislation is anticipated to come into force in September 2020 and will be in force for two years until 31 January 2022.

The new legislation which only applies in England and Wales enables individuals to video-witness the signing of their wills if they are unable to carry out the normal formalities of two independent witnesses physically present.

However, professionals have been firmly advised to stick to the current law of requiring two physical witnesses where it is feasibly possible and video Wills should be a last resort for their clients in order to protect people against undue influence and fraud.

Electronically Signed Deeds

The Lord Chancellor made electronically signed deeds legal in England and Wales at the start of March this year. The Chancellor said that electronic signatures “are permissible and can be used in confidence in commercial and consumer documents”.

In August, The Partnership became the first firm to submit electronically signed Deeds to HM Land Registry, using SignIT from InfoTrack.

In July, HM Land Registry announced the intention to accept electronic signatures on deeds provided they follow certain rules. Further to the announcement, The Partnership used InfoTrack’s SignIT, electronic signature software, to have the vendor sign deeds alongside a witness.

Claudia’s Law

On the 31st July 2019, The Ministry of Justice confirmed that the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 will come into force.

The Act, informally known as Claudia’s Law, will allow families to oversee the financial and property affairs of a missing loved one. The new legislation aims to remove the financial and administrative burdens of trying to deal with a missing person’s affairs.

In the past, families have only been able to handle the affairs of a missing loved one if they declared them as dead under the Presumption of Death Act 2013. However, the Guardianship Act 2017 will soon let families take control of the missing person’s finances and property if they have been missing for 90 days or more.

New SRA Standards and Regulations

In November 2019, law professionals and law firms were introduced to new standards following the release of the new SRA Standards and Regulations on the 25th November, replacing the 2011 SRA handbook.

The new standards were significantly reduced in length from 450 pages to 130 pages and allowed solicitors greater flexibility in how they work, with accounting rules simplified, shortening them to 13 considerations rather than 52 rules.

Money Laundering Regulations

The Fifth Money Laundering Directive (5AMLD) ensued at the beginning of 2020 as we entered a new decade, superseding the Money Laundering Regulations from 2017.
Professionals and firms had to ready themselves for 5AMLD coming into force on the 10th January 2020.

The pandemic continues to have a big impact on the legal landscape, with some firms faring better than others. The legal industry and many others are facing challenging times but hopefully there will be light at the end of the tunnel as we slowly recover. The sector has seen many changes, where health, wellness and safety has now become top priorities for every firm, the workplace itself is looking very different from 6 months ago and may not change for the foreseeable future. It seems the consensus is that some new ways of working, including working from home rather than in the office, are here to stay for the time being and will see a significant impact on the everyday workings and culture of all firms.

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