Even as we all begin to adjust to living with the reality of COVID-19, the pandemic continues to bring with it a great deal of uncertainty about the future. We continue to see many clients wanting to make sure that their own affairs are in good order: thinking about tax and succession planning, perhaps making or reviewing their Wills, Lasting Powers of Attorney, or Advance Care Planning arrangements.
Our private client team remains ready to assist and to provide a responsive service, albeit that in line with Government guidance team members are working remotely at least part of the time. Although the possibility to meet with clients in person is still limited, the past months have shown that where this is not possible or desired by the client we can nevertheless liaise with existing and new clients effectively and efficiently regarding all aspects of their affairs. Meetings over the phone or via video conference, and correspondence by email, have proved to be viable alternatives to traditional face to face meetings. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us, however best suits you.
The outbreak and current Government guidance does, however, continue to present a few novel challenges where we are preparing documents for you – particularly Wills and Codicils. To meet these challenges we can adapt how we provide our services and finalise your documents for you:
- Where we prepare documents for you, wherever possible we are sending these to you by email, but we can make alternative arrangements for any clients who do not have access to printers.
- Given social distancing requirements, clients are not so easily able to execute Wills, Codicils and Lasting Powers of Attorney with witnesses present. Where necessary, and for so long as government guidance continues to permit it, it may be possible to take clients through the formalities in a face-to-face meeting and act as witnesses ourselves, however we understand that for many clients this will still not be desirable while COVID-19 continues to be a concern. This can be a particular challenge with Wills and Codicils, where strict formalities apply for the Will or Codicil to be made validly.
- However, we can provide practical advice about the options available to you whatever circumstances you are in and can guide you through the process by phone or video conference and send comprehensive instructions by email.
These steps ensure that you can put new arrangements in place if you need or wish to do so, to make sure your affairs are in order and up to date.
In the meantime, after bowing to significant pressure, the Government has now reviewed the formalities around the witnessing of such documents and has announced its intention to temporarily amend the law relating to the valid witnessing of Wills and Codicils to permit witnessing via video link. The change to the law is expected to take place in September and is currently intended to apply to Wills made between 31 January 2020 and 31 January 2022. However, although the final form of the new rules is not yet available, what is clear is that remote witnessing of Wills will only be permitted as a last resort and comes with several clear risks. In line with government guidance, we strongly recommend witnesses being physically present when signing your Will or Codicil.
Once you have executed your documents, now that our offices have re-opened, we may ask you to send them to us so that we can arrange safe storage for you. Where for any reason a Will or Codicil has been signed in less-than-ideal circumstances despite the gradual easing of restrictions, out of caution we may advise that you re-execute it in a more traditional setting once this is possible.
However, for the most part there will be workable solutions and we strongly recommend having your affairs in order – and in particular not relying on the intestacy rules or on an out of date Will that may not reflect your wishes.
If you have any questions and wish to speak to someone, please contact one of the private client partners or your usual Stevens & Bolton contact.