Covid-19 has given us a rare opportunity to get on all with the jobs that we’ve studiously ignoring for ages; in my case, it’s been relatively mundane, the freezer that needed defrosting, sorting out the spice jars I have been hoarding since 2013 -and I know I’m not the only one guilty of that! The garden shed that needed painting the whole of last year, has, like my other tasks, been completed now! So all good with my Lockdown campaign so far. The dogs, who have thoroughly enjoyed this time with 3 of us all working from home, are all behaving impeccably due to extra 1-2-1 training during our daily exercise sessions so I’ve been giving thought to all the other things I could make use of all this home-time we still have before we start thinking about returning to the office. I expect I’m not the only one who hasn’t started to learn a new language (unless you count the language of epidemiologists in which I am becoming fluent) nor have I noticeably improved my watercolour skills, so there are challenges ahead.
Some of our clients have also been looking at their “to-do” lists and at the arrangements, they are making for their families – and there have been a few questions which have qualified for the FAQ tag. One of the most frequent non-investment questions has been about witnessing documents (especially Wills) during lockdown and with the news being almost wholly focused on Covid -19 statistics, few of us ( and I am including members of our own team in this) have been spared a brush with this horrible virus. It is hardly surprising more of us than ever want to make sure our affairs are in order should the worst happen.
In the early days of lockdown, one of my clients called me, I will call her Mary – it’s not her real name. Mary was very concerned. She had been putting off re-writing her Will but her New Year Resolution in 2020 was to take the bull by the horns and get on with it. At our suggestion she’d spoken to a solicitor and agreed the way she wanted it written, it was all finalised but she hadn’t yet signed it. The news reports of the virus had really affected her and she was very anxious. What now? She couldn’t get her new Will witnessed. Her old Will was hopelessly out of date and emphatically not the way she would want her property dealing with. All her neighbours and herself were self-isolating.
We deal with a number of excellent accountants and solicitors across the North West and there is always someone we can turn to, whether it’s a property matter, commercial law, a specialist tax query, a dispute with a neighbour or matrimonial problem and one of the extra benefits we can offer clients is a fast-track introduction to the right professional, so on this occasion, we were able to contact one of the local solicitors for reassurance for our client. Michael Prendergast of Ormskirk solicitors Dickinson Parker Hill who had drafted the Will for Mary explained “Wills are still governed by The Wills Act 1837 and so while it may seem antiquated, it is quite a well-drafted piece of legislation which is why it has stood the test of time.”
Mike went on to explain that technology cannot help so there is no witnessing by Zoom, Facetime or Skype and there must be 2 witnesses to the signature who are physically present at the same time as the individual making the Will -and they must see the Will being signed.
Mike went on to say “We have had people come to our offices and sign in their cars whilst we watch them through the window, we’ve been out to see people at home and again watched them through the window and other instances along those lines. Another less used option is for someone to sign the Will on the Testator’s behalf and at their direction but the Will would need to specify this. You would need three people; two witnesses and one person to sign the Will on the testator’s behalf. This is rarely used but is allowed under the old Wills Act.” Michael pointed out that most people are able to manage to get witnesses to watch them sign through a window and this is exactly what our client Mary did, with two neighbours watching her sign, through her lounge window.
So whatever you have in mind, if you haven’t yet made your Will, or someone you know would like to get their own Will organised, it can still be done despite all the current regulations. If you or someone you know is in this position; if you’d like us to make an introduction to a specialist solicitor who can help, do give us a call.
Best wishes from Angela, Jon, and all the Acumen team.