Is it possible to make a Will during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Over 50% of adults in the UK do not currently have a Will and during these worrying and uncertain times, a Will is one way to take control and give yourself peace of mind that your wishes are properly recorded should the worst happen. Here we talk about the easiest way to make a Will under lockdown and the reasons why every adult, whatever their age and circumstances, should do so.
What’s the easiest way to make a Will in the current climate?
Law firms can give practical guidance on making a Will over the telephone or by email. Many people prefer to seek advice face-to-face which can be done through video messaging services such as FaceTime, GoogleChat, Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom and other platforms. QualitySolicitors and all our partner firms offer private client services over the telephone, email and video conferencing platforms.
To be legally valid a Will must be witnessed by two people who are not direct beneficiaries of the Will or a spouse or civil partner of the person making the Will (the ‘testator’). If a Will beneficiary is a witness they may lose their inheritance.
Witnesses must sign the Will whilst the testator is present, and under normal circumstances everybody would sit around a table in the same room. However, the Government has recently legalised the remote witnessing of wills – making it easier for people to record their final wishes during the coronavirus pandemic. It became increasingly obvious that many people who wished to make a Will where unable to due to the nationwide lockdown or shielding or self-isolating. Therefore, the law now recognises (The Wills Act 1837) that the ‘presence’ of those making and witnessing Wills includes a virtual presence, via video-link, as an alternative to physical presence.
On the Gov website, it states that “the legislation will apply to Wills made since 31 January 2020, the date of the first registered Covid-19 case in England and Wales, except:
- cases where a Grant of Probate has already been issued in respect of the deceased person
- the application is already in the process of being administered
The legislation will apply to wills made up to two years from when the legislation comes into force (so until 31 January 2022), however this can be shortened or extended if deemed necessary, in line with the approach adopted for other coronavirus legislative measures.”
The current advice states that people should continue to make Wills in the conventional way unless they are unable to do so. It’s also worth noting that there is no set device or online platform that needs to be used, as long as the person making the Will and their two witnesses each have a clear line of sight of the writing of the signature. However, the Government has decided not to allow electronic signatures as part of this temporary legislation.
Why should every adult make a Will?
Making a Will is not something any of us relish but it is important to do so in any circumstances because it protects our loved ones at the worst possible time by:
- Clearly stating your wishes about the distribution of your estate. A Will is legally binding and reduces the chance of any arguments later. It means that you can leave gifts to charity if you want to, and that your assets are divided amongst people chosen by you.
- Stating who will take care of any minor children. Without a Will, the court will choose who will raise your children and this might not be who you would have chosen.
- Reducing the length of the probate process. Having a Will speeds up probate because it tells the court how you would like your estate to be divided.
- Minimising tax payments. When you write a Will your solicitor will advise you how to make sure your beneficiaries don’t pay more tax than necessary on your estate.
- Stating who your executor or executors are. Executing a Will is a responsible position involving paying bills and debts, cancelling credit cards, closing bank accounts and all the other aspects of administering an estate. An executor needs to be somebody you know is trustworthy and organized.
If you have already made a Will it is important to make sure it is up-to-date. Life changing events such as births, deaths, divorce or marriage can alter your original wishes.
What happens if you don’t make a Will?
When somebody dies without making a Will (‘intestate’), their estate will be administered according to the rules of intestacy. The rules of intestacy mean that the law decides who will inherit the estate and this may not be what the testator would have wished. The testator’s spouse or civil partner will inherit the first £250,000 of the estate plus all their property and belongings and half of the remaining estate. Anything left over will be shared amongst children, grandchildren or great grandchildren.
If the testator was separated but not divorced at the time of their death then their partner can still inherit. Cohabiting partners who are not married or in a civil partnership will not inherit, neither will stepchildren or step grandchildren.
When a person has no close relatives and dies without making a Will their whole estate belongs to the government or the Crown. This is called ‘bona vacantia’.
The absence of a Will is also likely to mean that the Inheritance Tax bill for the beneficiaries is likely to be higher than it would have been if there had been a Will in place.
Where should I keep my Will?
Your Will needs to be kept in a safe place. Always tell your executor or executors where it is kept.
All QualitySolicitor firms can store your Will securely, free of charge in our saferoom. This is a lifetime offer with no annual charges to pay. Our service means that your Will can easily be found when the time comes.
Speak to QualitySolicitors for advice
Since the coronavirus outbreak we have had a number of appointments with people over the phone and by video call. Our private client solicitors continue to provide the same high standards and level of expertise as we always have with face-to-face meetings.
Before drafting your Will we will talk to you to gather the information we need. We then post or email the draft to you so you can read it and make any changes. Once the Will is ready to sign we send it to you with clear instructions about how to arrange witness signatures whilst following social distancing rules.
Our clients are at the heart of everything we do. Contact us free of charge to see how we can help on 08082747557