The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), has released details of its recent survey of 1,700 probate lawyers and related practitioners situated across the globe. The survey sought to find out how advisers who specialise in inheritance, probate and succession planning have been affected by the COVID-19 health pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, the recent coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions have not resulted in any lessening of the workload for these professionals, with some practitioners reporting a 21% increase in work, with Wills and probate related work increasing by 24% in some areas.
In March, during the days when many of us assumed that COVID-19 restrictions were a temporary situation that would be weathered quickly before returning to normal life, the government announced that, under specially created guidelines, a separated parent would be able to withhold child contact from the other parent if they had legitimate concerns about potential COVID transmission.
In theory, this sounded reasonable enough. However, given that it required the good faith of both parents, it is perhaps also reasonable to suggest that problems should have been foreseeable. Under this COVID-specific piece of family law guidance, parents were given the power to unilaterally “exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe” – effectively, a green light to vary a child arrangements order.
There is only one method available to confidently prevent your estate from becoming the subject of a contentious and potentially costly and protracted probate dispute: instruct an experienced Wills solicitor to help you write a Will, ensure it is properly witnessed, store it securely and then update it correctly as and when necessary.
However, according to statistics, there are around 31 million adults in the UK who risk dying intestate (without a Will) – meaning that when they die their estate will pass on to their lawful heirs on the basis of the rules of intestacy rather than their actual wishes. This, inevitably, involves greater scope for the distress and acrimony inherent in a probate dispute.
From 2 November, probate solicitors in England and Wales will be made to submit the majority of probate applications online as part of legislative changes that are designed to provide a more efficient and reliable probate service, while also leading to estimated costs savings of £20 million over the next ten years.
The government has announced a major statutory change to the way in which Wills can be witnessed in the UK. The amendment to the Wills Act of 1837 has been made in the form of a statutory instrument and comes as a response to the pressures of the coronavirus crisis. It will enable testators to make valid Wills by “videoconferencing or other visual transmission”.
Since the passing of the act, nearly two-hundred years ago, Wills in the UK have always required two witnesses to be physically present to witness the testator's signature and to provide their details – even during times of national crisis such as the second world war. The statutory instrument will have effect until 31 January 2022 at which point it may be extended if required.