COVID-19 EXPERT LEGAL INSIGHTS

Will COVID-19 prompt changes
to Will legislation?

23 April 2020

There has been an increase in the number of clients wanting to write new, or update existing, Wills or Lasting Powers of Attorney while either self-isolating or remaining within the government's social distancing guidelines. 
 

There have been many conversations surrounding possible changes to the Wills legislation, and some overseas governments have introduced emergency legislation and/or guidance.

Examples of overseas governments' emergency legislation 

  • The Jersey government has temporarily relaxed the formal requirement for two witnesses to be physically present when a Will is signed. Instead, the witnessing requirements that are necessary to execute a valid Will may now be completed by audio/video communication.
  • Ontario in Canada has temporarily permitted the virtual witnessing of Wills and powers of attorney as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Wills in New Zealand can now be signed by audio-visual link.
  • Queensland, Australia has also introduced temporary relaxation of the rules in its legislation on witnessing Wills in the physical presence of the testator.
  • The Scottish Law Society has suggested that, in these unprecedented times, the solicitor or Will writer can act as the witness on a video call as long as they are not excluded by becoming executor directly or through a trust company.

However, to date the law has not changed in England and Wales.

 

In our previous blog we discussed the perils of signing your will and included some suggestions for how to do this whilst keeping safe and adhering to the government advice. This remains unchanged. Some additional suggestions include using a car bonnet or rear window (the wiper can be utilised in a clipboard type mechanism) or witnessing via a window which would allow your witnesses to stand outside whilst you sign and then post the Will through the letterbox for their signatures.

The legislation around Wills date back to 1837, so it is clear that there is a need for modernisation and reform, but the question is how and when.

The two options which seem to be suggested are (1) witnessing via videoconferencing or (2) extending the use of privileged Wills to everyone. Privileged Wills are a long established convention restricted to people making Wills when on active military service where the normal formalities of witnessing cannot be observed. Each comes with its own set of concerns.

A parliamentary question was answered on 24 April 2020 about the future of Wills. The response from the Government was that it is currently reviewing the case for reform of the law on making Wills given current circumstances.

Whilst it is clear that modernisation is needed, the difficulty is that any reform needs to be balanced against the important safeguards in the law to protect elderly and vulnerable people in particular against undue influence and fraud. Having two independent witnesses provides safeguards to those making Wills.

The danger is that quickly produced legislation intended to be introduced as temporary could slowly make its way to permanent law and therefore careful consideration needs to be given to what changes are implemented and how people are properly protected.

For the time being, you should ensure your Wills are signed in accordance with the law.

About the author

Diva Shah is an associate in our Private Client team. Diva acts for various clients including high net worth individuals, entrepreneurs, executors, trustees and individuals who lack mental capacity on a broad range of matters.

Latest blogs & news

How UK Capital Gains Tax is applied to UK property when non-UK resident spouses divorce

As non-UK tax residents, the couple will be subject to special rules for calculating the capital gains tax (“CGT”) due in relation to either the sale or transfer of their UK property.

Don’t make an awful year even worse…Separation and Capital Gains tax

The last 12 months have put an awful lot of pressure on the family unit and sadly this has led to a spike in separation and divorce amongst married couples. With the end of the tax year fast approaching (last day Monday 5th April – Easter Monday) it is timely to consider the tax consequences of separations.

The challenges for intended parents and surrogacy arrangements during the coronavirus crisis

The coronavirus crisis has caused huge disruption across the world. The distress that it is causing is compounded in circumstances where intended parents of surrogacy children are in the middle of their surrogacy journey. In this blog, we address some of the most common issues people are experiencing and provide practical tips on how to navigate the current situation. These challenges include access to fertility treatment, pregnancy and birth, international travel restrictions, immigration status, parental orders and Wills among others.

Will COVID-19 prompt changes to Will legislation?

With an increase in the number of client wanting to write new, or update existing, Wills or Lasting Powers of Attorney while either self-isolating or remaining within the government's social distancing guidelines, Diva Shah discusses the possible changes to the Wills legislation. 

No Will - No Worries?

Anxieties to put a Will, or new Will, in place may be heightened by the difficulties in executing a will in the presence of two witnesses at a time of social distancing and isolation. But for some of us, more than ever alert to the reality of our own mortality, would dying without a will really  be a complete disaster for our assets and our family – or would things work out OK?

What a difference a day count makes: The implications of the Coronavirus pandemic on the UK tax status of non-domiciled individuals

International clients with a UK footprint often like a good spread sheet: specifically, a spread sheet covering their days spent in the UK and those spent overseas in the period 6 April to the following 5 April. This period is the UK tax year, and well-advised international clients – those considered neither resident nor domiciled in the UK - are all too aware that not keeping track of their UK day count may make them UK resident and within scope of UK income and capital gains tax on their worldwide income and gains. Numbers matter.

Coronavirus and the perils of signing your Will

The news is dominated at the moment with the dreaded C word – COVID-19.  Our TV screens, phones and newspapers are filled with the death count, panic buying and now “lockdown”.  For many, being isolated or maintaining social distancing means that you may well be thinking about your future.

Wills and estate planning - the right time is right now

In the current crisis, we find ourselves with time (perhaps too much time…) for worry and reflection over an uncertain future. That reflection could usefully and responsibly be channelled, in part, to issues of Wills, tax planning and general succession.

Share insightLinkedIn Twitter Facebook Email to a friend Print

Email this page to a friend

We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

Leave a comment

You may also be interested in:

Skip to content Home About Us Insights Services Contact Accessibility