FREE CHAPTER from ‘Covid-19 and Wills – The Essential Guide’ by Edward Hewitt

CHAPTER ONE – INTRODUCTION

    1. The Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown and consequences for
      will making

In late January 2020 the first cases of Covid-19 infections were reported in the UK. Having encouraged people to stay at home the previous week, on 23rd March 2020 Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced, in effect, a national lockdown.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a two-pronged impact on will making. On the one hand, the daily reporting in the media of an ever-increasing number of infections and deaths has undoubtedly galvanised people into putting their affairs in order, including by making a will. Many who had previously thought about making a will but had not actually got round to doing anything about it were suddenly spurred into action. Similarly, would-be testators who had started the will making process by giving instructions, but had then lost momentum and put the matter to one side without actually signing a will, were prompted to pick up where they had left off and conclude the process.

On the other hand, the imposition of a national lockdown and social distancing measures designed to slow the spread of the virus has made the mechanics of the will making process much more challenging. Most solicitors’ offices across the country have closed, with staff being asked to work from home. This has made meeting in person with the client at the office impossible. Home visits have also become problematic, not least because the clients for whom they would once have been common, i.e. the elderly or infirm, are also among those for whom Covid-19 poses the greatest risk. All of this makes taking instructions from clients, and then explaining the draft will to them to ensure it accords with those instructions, much more difficult. Furthermore, the process of executing a will in the presence of two witnesses who then also both sign it has become a particularly thorny issue, as highlighted by its extensive media coverage.

    1. The purpose of this guide

Although at the time of writing some of the restrictions are gradually being eased, it seems clear that it is going to take some time before it will be possible to make a will in the way it was before the pandemic. The purpose of this short guide is to consider some of the challenges which the Covid-19 pandemic has created for those in the business of will preparation, and some of the ways in which these might be overcome. The guide assumes some pre-existing familiarity with will preparation, as the basics will not be covered.

    1. Acknowledgments

I am extremely grateful to the following, who were kind enough to take time out of their busy diaries to share with me some of their thoughts and experiences regarding the challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic and some of possible ways in which they might be overcome: Charlotte Digby at Freeths, Caroline Miller and Oliver Embley at Wedlake Bell, Natalie Payne at Mackrell.Solicitors and Steven Appleton at Brabners. Needless to say, in the conventional way the responsibility for any error or omission is solely mine.

    1. Miscellaneous

References to the male singular are used for ease and to avoid a repetitive overuse of “he or she” and “his or her”. Unless otherwise stated, reference to a will includes a codicil.

I have attempted to state the law as at 29th July 2020. Given the amount of legislative change brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the speed with which it has been – and continues to be – implemented, it is particularly important to continuously carefully check the very latest legislation and guidance.

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