Thousands of people are expected to write their last will and testament by the end of this year – amid ‘flu season’ and with potentially another worrying phase of the coronavirus pandemic approaching.
But the task should be easier than six months ago. For witnesses – needed to make a will legally binding – can now observe the rituals of law via a video call.
The Government has tweaked the law until the end of January 2022 to allow all the witnessing of wills remotely. This temporary change also backdates to January 31 this year, covering anyone who has already taken the chance on completing wills in a modern way. Witnesses can use the likes of Zoom, FaceTime or Skype.
The right time: Witnesses – needed to make a will legally binding – can now observe the rituals of law via a video call
The new freedoms make will writing easier for many planning for worst-case scenarios.
Previously, witnesses needed to be physically present, which, of course, is a tricky hoop to jump through amid shielding and social distancing rules.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and people who went ahead and wrote wills earlier this year demonstrated just that. The Society of Will Writers, which operates a code of practice and complaints procedure for member will-writing companies, says some firms have reported business tripling this year.
Solicitors have arranged drivethrough will-signing services, while witnesses have been observing signatures through windows and exchanging paperwork via the doorstep.
The Mail on Sunday has also learned of merciful medical staff stepping in as witnesses for Covid patients in their hospital beds as victims of the virus rushed to bequeath their money and belongings to family at a critical time.
Anthony Belcher, from The Society of Will Writers, says: ‘Having a will is the only way to ensure that those you want to benefit from your estate do benefit.’
Otherwise, State laws apply and surviving relatives get no say about ownership. Two adults are required to witness the signing of a will, and then sign it themselves in front of the testator – the person creating it.
Two will-writing charity endeavours have been arranged this autumn in the hope that more people will record their final wishes. This month is Free Wills Month and November marks Will Aid. In both cases, solicitors forgo a fee in the hope clients will donate to a good cause instead.
Alan Gardiner, chief executive of Honey Legal, also offers a free, basic will-writing service to NHS staff, key workers and their families. His sister got Covid and was admitted to intensive care, but thankfully recovered.
He says: ‘I was so grateful to the NHS. I just wanted to do something good in exchange.’ Key workers can visit 999wills.co.uk.
Peter de Vena Franks, campaign director at Will Aid, says: ‘The coronavirus pandemic has made people reflect on the fragility of life.’ Dan Garrett, chief executive of online and telephone-based will-writing firm Farewill, says: ‘We’re all reflecting on our mortality as a result of the virus – and that’s having a direct impact on customer behaviour.
‘When things are organised properly and questions around inheritance are tackled upfront, it saves confusion and difficulty for those left behind.’
But despite a surge in new business, around 31million Britons don’t have a will, according to financial services firm Canada Life. They risk leaving loved ones in a fog of heartbreak and paperwork – unable to execute the final wishes of a person they have lost.
The truth is that the need for a will is paramount and the job of completing one has been made easier. So, experts’ advice is clear: don’t wait or be put off by social distancing.
Anthony Belcher adds: ‘A will is one of the most important documents you’ll ever have. We actively encourage everyone to seek proper advice to get this in place, no matter the complexity of their estate.’