COVID-19: Make sure your will is valid and reflects your intentions.

The current COVID-19 situation will prompt many of you to get your will and estate planning in order, but social-distancing presents its own problems when it comes to making your will legally binding.

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Discussing inheritance tax and estate planning can be emotional at the best of times and doing so during a pandemic can only amplify those feelings. From our experience, dealing with estate planning requires consideration of both the emotional and practical aspects equally. Planning is essential to ensure you minimise inheritance tax and pass on as much as possible to your beneficiaries. As a first rule it is equally important to talk to donees to manage their expectations around respective inheritance provisions and your respective wishes too.

So while you may be in a hurry to get something in place, it is worth getting some advice to help both with tax planning and family discussions.

There are other practicalities to consider that are specific to the current situation. One of the most important points is that for your will to be valid in the UK, it must be written and signed by you in the presence of two independent adult witnesses. Your witnesses must also sign in your presence. It is important to note that your witnesses are unable to benefit under the will, this includes if your beneficiaries might be your adult children. This rule is in place to safeguard against undue influence over the testator regarding provisions included in the will.

If you already have a will  drafted, the safest way to execute this in the current climate, as a practical  example, would be for two adult neighbours, who are not beneficiaries in the will, to witness your signature outdoors (if you are comfortable with these parties knowing the contents of your will). The witnessing may even occur through a window, so long everyone is able to view the signing of the will. All signatories should naturally wash their hands and/ or use hand sanitiser afterwards.

If you already have a valid will and wish to make revisions to it, for example to change the executors, this can be achieved via a codicil. The benefit of using a codicil is that, providing their entitlements are not affected, beneficiaries may act as witnesses. 

It is also perfectly acceptable for you to update your letter of wishes yourself and there are no witness requirements when it comes to letters of wishes. However, while your executors have a duty to act in accordance with such letters, they are not legally binding in the same manner as a will or codicil.

If you would like to review your estate planning options and update or make a new will while in lockdown, please do get in touch. We can discuss your desired outcomes and any existing will with you via a video call or phone call. On the basis of such discussions, we will then provide instructions to either a solicitor we work closely with, or your own solicitor, who will draft a will for you. 

It is preferable to have a will in place rather than rely on the intestacy rules which are unlikely to achieve your wishes as they follow set criteria about how the estate is divided up when there is no valid will. Once a will is in place it can be reviewed and updated at any point in the future. If there is anything else you are concerned about, or if drafting a will is not appropriate for you at present, there may be other estate planning options things that can be considered, so please do get in touch. We are also able to provide assistance with putting lasting powers of attorney in place.

This article was last updated on 14 May 2020.

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