In light of the developing situation and the surge in applications for Wills, both the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners and the Law Society have been in continued talks with the Ministry of Justice about temporarily relaxing the existing legislation relating to Will execution during this current period.
The industry continues to review the position as the crisis escalates, acknowledging that there may be a need to go even further to simplify the Will-making process in the face of such unprecedented disruption and difficulty in complying with the usual witnessing requirements. Further options on the table for discussion now include to allow witnessing via video conference, to dispense with the requirement for witnessing altogether in the interim, or to extend the special provisions under the Wills Act for 'privileged Wills' (ordinarily for military servicemen) to the general public for the duration of this crisis. Such Wills can be made orally, or if they are in writing, do not need to be witnessed. Whilst we understand that this is under discussion with the Ministry of Justice, changes have not yet been approved or announced.
Making extensive changes to two hundred year old laws does not come about without due hesitation and consideration despite the exceptional nature of the surrounding circumstances – relaxing these rules must be balanced against the risks and scope for abuse. Two independent witnesses are required to protect the vulnerable against potential fraud and undue influence. Given the circumstances however, allowing judges greater flexibility in determining the validly of Wills made at this time might be deemed to be of greater importance.
The consultation continues, and we expect this position to develop further over the coming days and weeks.
Legal professionals acting in the execution of a Will are recognised as "key workers" by the Ministry of Justice which reinforces the importance of these issues for the public. To avoid any uncertainty about the enforceability of your Will, it is imperative that its execution complies with the law and those seeking to implement or update their Will during the current period should take professional advice on the process that must be followed to ensure validity.
We are here to help with any questions you may have on preparing or updating Wills. We have experts based in our London, Regional and International offices and for more information, please get in touch with one of our key contacts.
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