Tips on updating wills and LPAs while social distancing
While many people are hoping for the end of lockdown restrictions, for the older and vulnerable, social distancing remains the best option.
Yet it continues to be important to keep estate planning, wills and provision for future challenges up to date. That includes putting measures in place to make life easier for all the family in the event of ill health or when a loved one dies.
Paul Gotch, Trusts and Estates Planning Partner at JMW Solicitors, explains what to consider to make sure an estate is in order – and how that’s possible even in times of social distancing.
Drafting a new will
Putting a will in place is important to make the administration of an estate easier for family and friends when a person dies. It allows for clarity on wishes and means assets will not need to be shared in accordance with the law of intestacy,
This is important, for example, for those who wish to provide for an unmarried partner or a blended family. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a ‘common law spouse’ when considering the devolution of an estate.
Furthermore, making a will allows an individual to set out their decisions in relation to any dependants, for instance, how they will be cared for and who will be their guardian.
A will is also important for anyone with a significant estate, as proper advice and planning at an early stage can help to reduce the inheritance tax liability. This, in turn, will help the beneficiaries of the will.
Reviewing an existing will
It is important to keep a will under review to ensure it reflects the individual’s wishes, as it may be that it needs to be updated following major life events such as marriage, the birth of children, divorce, bereavement or a windfall.
Failure to update a will could mean it is unclear or inadequate when it comes to administering the estate. This will increase the likelihood of the estate administration becoming contentious, resulting in additional costs and upset for the family.
Similarly, a person’s asset base may have changed significantly since the initial drafting of their will, meaning they would now benefit from advice on planning for inheritance tax to restructure their will so it is tax efficient.
Lasting Powers of Attorney
In addition to making or reviewing a will, consideration should be made into what assistance will be needed should the capacity to make decisions be lost.
A Lasting Power of Attorney allows an individual to appoint attorneys to deal with financial or health decisions on their behalf. For example, an attorney can be provided with access to bank accounts in order to pay bills, or be given the authority to make decisions about care if the person is unwell.
A Lasting Power of Attorney needs to be put in place before the individual loses capacity. It gives them control over who is appointed and allows them to make sure their appointees are aware of their wishes so they can act in the individual’s best interests if the need arises.
How it works during social distancing and self-isolation
Due to the unprecedented demand for wills during the coronavirus pandemic, many law firms are adapting how they handle the drafting and reviewing of wills. They may be able to advise via telephone or videoconferencing, drafting the documents remotely, and on an emergency basis where required. They may offer options to have documents executed whilst social distancing, so there is no increased risk to signing or a reason to delay doing so.
The law in England and Wales states that a will must be physically signed in front of two witnesses, and this should not be put off due to self-isolation. Arrangements can be made for both witnesses to watch through a window as the will is signed. Witnesses should be over 18, not closely related to the person making the will, and not be due to benefit under the will.
After ensuring the witnesses have recently washed their hands, they can receive the document through the letterbox, sign it, and then return it the same way. The owner of the will can then put it somewhere safe.
Only one person who is over the age of 18 and not being appointed as an attorney is required to witness a Lasting Power of Attorney, and solicitors can take instructions and send signature copies remotely. It is possible for a solicitor to become the ‘certificate provider’ by videoconference. Once the signed documents have been returned, the original forms can be sent to the Office of the Public Guardian for registration and return.
It may seem like the world has come to standstill due to the coronavirus, and while things are slowly starting to return to some form of normality, there is no reason why anyone should be put off putting important plans in place to ensure an estate is taken care of for family and friends in the future.
As lockdown is eased, new guidance is being offered by the UK government.
In early July the government issued new rules for making and updating LPAs in England and Wales during the coronavirus outbreak.
In July the government changed the law in England and Wales to allow video-witnessing of wills.
If you found this article useful, you may like to read:
- What to do when a parent dies
- Organising a funeral
- UK government advice on making and registering an LPA during the coronavirus crisis
You may also like to read an expert’s view on protecting yourself from committing inadvertent fraud while acting as an attorney.
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