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UK examines ways to make writing Wills easier during Coronavirus COVID-19 crisis

By Ravi Merhas – Head of Private Client Services

The Ministry of Justice could temporarily relax rules on two witnesses being present as UK self-isolates.

Currently, for a will to be valid, it must be signed by two witnesses present at the same time, and the witnesses must be independent and not related to the person to whom the will applies. Under current social distancing measures, especially for those in isolation at home or in hospital, it is almost impossible to adhere to the rules.

The Ministry of Justice is now looking at a temporary relaxation in the rules, which could involve reducing the number of witnesses required, or possibly accepting other solutions, such as video witnessing.

But the Ministry of Justice said any temporary relaxation of the rules would have to be balanced against the risk of fraud, with the rule about two independent witnesses historically in place to protect the vulnerable.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “This is a delicate area of law and we absolutely must continue protect the elderly and vulnerable against potential fraud. While there are no current plans to change the law, we will consider all options and keep this under review during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), which represents professional will writers, said it has been in talks with the Ministry of Justice to ease the rules.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to a large rise in the number of people making or updating their wills,” said Emily Deane, technical counsel at Step. “We are hopeful that the Ministry of Justice will implement temporary legislative measures to facilitate will writing at this time while remaining mindful of the potential scope for abuse in these situations. Now, more than ever, it is important for people to be attentive when putting together or updating their will to ensure that it will be valid.”

The Law Society has also been in discussion with the Ministry of Justice to make the signing of wills and powers of attorney easier and quicker.

Clearly there is consideration being given to a 200-year old system, where two witnesses have always been required. The future could see Wills without the need for any witnesses, as is being seen in other European countries and Australia. As things currently stand, two witnesses are required at the time of your Will being signed and this may be particularly difficult during the government lockdown.

For more information on Wills during the coronavirus pandemic, I also published an Article on 1st April 2020 on our website, ‘Making a Will in the time of Coronavirus – guidance on the implications of the rules on social distancing and isolation for work on Wills issued today’. The Article looked at new government guidance related to Wills and what this means for clients.

How Barnes Harrild & Dyer Solicitors can help

Our Wills, Probate and Estate Planning department at Barnes Harrild & Dyer Solicitors are safely getting around client restrictions with social isolation, ensuring Wills are being prepared and executed. We are committed to doing whatever we can to help you in this tricky time and to give you peace of mind.

Our firm continues to provide full legal services and can assist with your Wills at this difficult time.We will continue monitoring the situation closely and providing updated guidance in due course.

Regarding any of the above you can contact me directly at ravi.merhas@bhdsolicitors.co.uk to arrange a consultation, or you can contact us via the blue contact us boxes above. Barnes Harrild & Dyer continue to provide full legal services during this COVID-19 pandemic.

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