Brits rush to write will
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IN these uncertain times, it is hardly surprising that solicitors are reporting a surge in the number of people getting in contact to write their will or update an existing document.
Writing a will is something you should do at any time, but the coronavirus outbreak is serving to concentrate minds on this important issue.
Almost three out of five adults do not have a will in place, including a third of over-55s, Royal London research shows.
Others have failed to update their will, even after a major life event, such as buying a home, and consumer spokeswoman Mona Patel said: “Having an up-to-date will gives you peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out and your loved ones looked after financially.”
Right now though, there is a catch.when writing a will, you need to get it legally witnessed, but this may not be easy if you are self-isolating or observing social distancing rules.
Elspeth Neilson, private client partner at Osbornes Law, said your will must be signed by two independent witnesses who are not your beneficiaries or the spouses of beneficiaries: “Given most of us are restricted to contact with those in our household, this can create some difficulty.”
The Ministry of Justice is considering a temporary change during the Covid-19 pandemic, either allowing people to make wills with just one or even no witnesses, or by video conference.
However, it is treading carefully due to fears that this could lead to abuse, and Neilson said anyone making a will today needs to follow the current rules: “Failure to do so could invalidate your will.”
Small mistakes can cost you dear, so even in these unprecedented times, make sure your will appoints executors, contains a clear and unambiguous disposal of your estate, and is executed correctly. “Your will must be in writing and be signed and dated by you or, in your presence, by another person who has your permission to do so,” she said.
Neilson proposed one possible solution to the witnesses problem: “You could sign your will outside in the presence of two neighbours who are not displaying coronavirus symptoms.”
They should remain at least two metres away from you, in a place where they are still able to see you sign the will.
Further precautions would include using your own pens, making no physical contact, wearing gloves, conducting the process quickly, and washing your hands afterwards.
Another danger is that vulnerable people could come under pressure from relatives, especially when isolated. “We use video calls to ensure anyone who is vulnerable to undue influence executes their will without the involvement of anyone else,” Neilson said.
Wills written during this time may well need to be revisited in the future, she added.
Will-writing is not a regulated activity so protect yourself by choosing somebody with a specialist qualification either from the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) or a member of Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE).
STEP technical counsel Emily Deane said online will writing services can offer basic help, but those with complex affairs could make costly mistakes.
“If you have children from previous relationships, multiple properties or assets abroad, a business or a large or complicated estate, then speak to a qualified adviser,” she added.