The current worldwide issue relating to coronavirus has led to a surge in people wishing to create or amend their Will. While a sharp spike in mortality rates and lockdown measures mean that the usual structure of services following a death are not necessarily all in place.
Fortunately, for clients of those law firms already embracing digital technologies and remote working systems, there should be only minimal disruption. As long as homes continue to be served with power, broadband and telephone lines, solicitors should be able to carry on largely as normal and clients should be able to receive most aspects of the usual Wills and probate legal service. Many Wills and probate solicitors are able to take instruction over the phone and via video conferencing facilities, and there are many methods available for safe handling of sensitive documents.
In terms of infrastructure, we know that much remains open. Registry Office staff are classed as key workers, so the registry of deaths can carry on; while all but a select few Will registries should continue to operate normally.
So, what are the specific issues relating to Will writing and probate service providers, and their clients, during this time?
Will writing services and a change in the law
We know that COVID-19 is particularly dangerous to older people and those with underlying health conditions, but it has also proven itself to be an indiscriminate killer that can take the lives of young people who are in good health.
This reality has motivated many to decide to write their first Will or to update an existing document, but social distancing and lockdown measures mean popping out to your local solicitor's office is now impossible. Wills need to be very carefully prepared, signed and witnessed, so the current situation has presented significant challenges.
Yes, there are online will-writing services available, but for many, these will be inadequate and perfunctory and won't offer the lawyer-led service that they would want and expect. Furthermore, those who may be affected by potential concerns regarding capacity and undue influence – for example, residents in care homes or patients in hospitals – these routes may not be suitable.
This is why, following lobbying from The Law Society and The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), the Ministry of Justice is reportedly reviewing ways to deformalise the Will-writing process, potentially by adopting an Australia-inspired system that allows a broader definition of what constitutes a valid Will or indeed by adopting a system that formally recognises the electronic-witnessing of a Will.
One interesting idea is to extend Section 11 of the Wills Act 1837 to include Wills made up during the coronavirus crisis. As it stands, the act allows armed forces personnel to make either a Written or Oral Will in an emergency situation without the requirement for any witnesses.
However, while the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is said to be considering all the options and keeping the matter under review during the Covid-19 pandemic, a spokesperson commented in the press recently that there are no plans to move for a change in the law relating to Wills.
Probate services during the coronavirus outbreak
In terms of probate, it is to be hoped that the CV-19 death toll can be minimised, thereby reducing pressure on probate services.
However, until the severity and duration of the peak become clear, it is not possible to tell how probate services will cope. Against this background, HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has warned that there may be a delay in granting probate, but a set of guidelines has been issued to help speed up the process.
Probate solicitors have been urged to use the online system to make applications as these can be accessed remotely by probate registry staff who may be working from home and a set of standard application forms has been launched, again, in the hope of standardising and speeding up the process as much as possible.
Oratto – The ideal solution for challenging times?
Oratto’s online probate quotation system gives you a simple, straightforward and personalised way to achieve quick online fixed fee probate quotes.
And because all our member lawyers act online and over the telephone, they can accept cases nationwide, without any need for face-to-face meetings.
And with no legal bills or fees payable up-front – all are paid from the estate once probate has been granted – you can rest assured that you will not be put under any unnecessary financial strain during this increasingly difficult time.
Contact us today for more information about how we can help you effectively negotiate your Will writing and probate needs during the COVID-19 crisis.