Yorkshire solicitors call for action on wills during coronavirus pandemic

Yorkshire solicitors call for action on wills during coronavirus pandemic

Solicitors in Yorkshire are calling for the UK government to change the way wills are drawn up during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

John Feaster, private client and tax partner at Schofield Sweeney in Leeds and Bradford and member of the Society for Estate and Trust Practitioners (STEP), and Rachel Roche, founder of Roche Legal in York and Harrogate, have each said that the creation of wills for clients is becoming increasingly difficult in the current climate.

Feaster said: “What had become an increasingly difficult process in the last couple of weeks, has now become almost impossible. Those facing the prospect of death and wishing to make or update their will are now unlikely to be able to do so.”

Private client lawyers have been experiencing a surge in enquiries during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Schofield Sweeney, just as travel restrictions and social distancing measures have come into force.

These factors make the practicalities of a correctly executed will as laid down in the Wills Act of 1837—requiring the document to be in writing, signed by the testator, in the presence of two witnesses who attend the testator’s signature—impossible to manage.

Feaster said: “Given that March 2020 is a time of national emergency, unlike any other since the ending of the Second World War, now is the time to relax the will execution formalities to enable the wishes expressed by those unable to meet the Wills Act 1837 formalities, to be followed. With the advent of technology solicitors and members of STEP must immediately be provided with the ability to act as witnesses using video calling applications and electronic signatures accepted as valid.”

Roche has developed and introduced her own online will writing and lasting power of attorney programme and specialises in helping the elderly and vulnerable. She acknowledges changes will need to be made to the regulations and the coronavirus pandemic is focusing attention on the current system.

She said: “It is vital to bring the legal profession into the modern era because it is still, in many ways, archaic and the Wills Act was introduced in 1837 and we need to be more flexible.”

“The situation we are currently in is a good opportunity for lawmakers to think about practical ways to ensure that people who need to have their wishes documented are able to do so quickly. It is possible for multiple people to sign electronic documents and that is why the whole system needs to be looked at. There may be a method where you can keep the current rules but also introduce another way that runs in parallel and I do prefer an electronic option.”

Roche continued: “I expect an electronic system for signing all documents, including will and deeds, will be available in the future using blockchain, which is used by the banks, and is secure. In the rest of Europe you do not need two witnesses and there are different types of will you can make either with a notary or by signing it yourself and that is called a holographic will. Our will writing and lasting power of attorney programme gives clients the convenience of online use and it’s a shame we cannot offer the opportunity to sign as well. That would be the next logical step.”

“We have been dealing with requests for copies of lasting powers of attorney for clients who are in hospital or are concerned they will have to be admitted and they want to ensure their relatives  can manage their affairs while they are incapacitated.”

Categories: Coronavirus, Legal, News

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Mark Dugdale

Mark is the Editor of Yorkshire Legal. Mark welcomes articles, letters or feedback from readers and can be reached by emailing mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk