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Urge for immediate changes to enable the legal execution of wills

In an unprecedented time of national crisis, solicitors involved in the preparation and execution of wills have been recognised by Her Majesty’s Government as key workers.

However, due to the formalities for the execution of a will and current social distancing restrictions, Solicitors have been left in a position where they are unable to provide the public with a legally compliant Will.

John Feaster, Private Client and Tax Partner at Schofield Sweeney LLP solicitors and member of STEP (Society for Estate and Trust Practitioners) confirms “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 up and down the country have been experiencing a surge in enquiries as our own mortality is brought into sharp focus.

Restrictions on all but essential travel, taken with social distancing and isolation for the elderly and more vulnerable in society have created a dilemma – how to deal with the practicalities of a correctly executed will.

The Wills Act 1837 still governs the formalities for the execution of a will – surely one of the most enduring pieces of Victorian legislation. This requires a will to be in writing, signed by the testator, in the presence of two witnesses who attend the testator’s signature.

The only exception provided in the legislation is for a privileged will – which provides an almost total relaxation of the requirements for a valid will made by a member of the armed services in certain circumstances.

“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.” John Feaster, Schofield Sweeney

The team are using innovative ways of ensuring a continuation of service, so the public can be reassured that they have access to advice and support should they wish to make a Will.