The Coronavirus health crisis and resulting ‘lockdown’ has certainly got many people thinking about whether their personal affairs are in order. We have seen a surge in clients who are concerned to make a Will or to make changes to their existing Wills. Many more will be worrying about this but unsure what they can do right now or perhaps tempted by a spot of ‘DIY’ in this area.
The formalities which must be observed when putting in place important legal documents can present a particular challenge at a time when we are required to observe strict social distancing. A Will signing, for example, involves three people to be present, the person whose Will it is and two impartial adult witnesses. If the correct formalities are not correctly observed the Will is simply not valid, however clearly the intentions and wishes set out in the document are expressed. The law in this area is under review but the Ministry of Justice has said that the government has no immediate plans to reform the requirements for executing and witnessing a will in the light of the COVID-19 outbreak (pointing out that the rules are designed to protect the elderly and vulnerable against undue influence and fraud).
We have also seen increased interest at this time in making Lasting Powers of Attorney. Without a financial Lasting Power of Attorney in place the family’s finances may be frozen if one of them become incapacitated (even those with joint accounts are otherwise at risk because the bank may freeze the account if it becomes aware that one of the account holders is currently unable to make financial decisions).
Whilst the COVID 19 crisis has brought with it a sense of urgency to address these matters, there are significant risks if people rush ahead without the benefit of expert advice. Even if the relevant formalities are duly observed, you may risk making choices which are not well informed, perhaps giving rise to an unnecessary inheritance tax bill for your beneficiaries or sowing the seeds of a family dispute in the future.
If you are tempted to attempt a homemade Will, you may express what you want to happen in words which seem clear to you, but which may have a particular legal meaning or effect you did not intend or which are ambiguous creating uncertainty and scope for family fall-out. Not having a professional involved in drawing up and overseeing the signing of the Will could also mean more scope for it to be challenged.
Our guide provides some tips on what you need to think about when planning your Will to help avoid a dispute in the family. See here.
The good news is that expert help and support is on hand to help you get these important documents right and with careful forward planning, the witnessing of legal documents, in line of sight, but at a suitable social distance, can be achieved.
The current situation certainly brings into focus the importance of having ‘peace of mind’ Will and Lasting Power of Attorney planning in place and kept under regular review. With many of us currently having more time on our hands at home, it’s an opportunity for all of us to kick start planning for the future, to embark on steps that can minimise inheritance tax liabilities, and help you protect and make the most of what you have for yourselves and future generations.
For further information please contact Claire Johnson on 02920 391728 firstname.lastname@example.org, Erica Thomson on 01159 833745 email@example.com or Laura Alliss on 02920 391842 firstname.lastname@example.org
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