Spike in will enquiries as coronavirus grips nation
Lawyers are seeing a big spike in enquiries and requests to draw up wills and power of attorneys amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Law Society reports a 30% increase on usual requests as the number of people contracting the virus and the death toll rises on a daily basis.
Ian Bond, chair of the Law Society’s wills and equity committee, told The Daily Telegraph the big increase in the number of queries and requests in the past month are primarily from the elderly or vulnerable undergoing hospital or other health treatment.
He said they were fearful about the risk of the virus and wanted to “put their affairs in order.”
However, due to the guidance around self-isolation and the steps households need to take to prevent the spread of the virus, lawyers say technology will play an important factor in getting these wills written.
But there is concern that plans and wills will be written in haste and could lead to many disputes down the line.
Jessica Jamieson, partner at Cripps Pemberton Greenish, said for some clients, the current restrictions may lead to practical difficulties in both giving instructions and signing the Wills.
She said: “Often clients are not able to explain their wishes over the phone and so (until now) a face-to-face meeting has often been the preferred option.
“Wills need to be signed in the physical presence of two independent witnesses who are not mentioned in the will, which is problematic for those in isolation.
“Where there is a concern about a client’s capacity, in order to avoid any disputes in the future from disgruntled beneficiaries as to whether or not the client understood the will, we normally recommend obtaining a report from a doctor confirming capacity, and then signing the will in the presence of a solicitor. Both of these are currently problematic, with pressures on the NHS, solicitors working from home and elderly clients being asked to go into isolation.”
Jamieson added that delaying the preparation of a will may not be an option for those who are particularly ill or at risk, and solicitors could be equally criticised if they do not prepare a will.
“Clients must be made aware of the risk of going ahead in these circumstances, and encouraged to re-sign the will once the current problems subside,” she said.
She added: “Whilst it is possible to write a will online, this will not address the issues regarding signing and capacity. In addition, clients should be careful about preparing wills without taking legal advice.
“This is particularly the case if they have complex finances, which could give rise to tax liabilities that need to be considered under the will, or if they have assets in multiple countries, which will need specific advice to ensure their wishes are binding in each of those jurisdictions.”