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Coronavirus: Wills ‘being signed on car bonnets’ amid lockdown

Documents have been held in place by windscreen wipers and signed on a car bonnet in a novel way for Wills to be witnessed during social distancing.

Signatures are also being watched through windows and patio doors as current restrictions make 200-year-old Will writing laws difficult to uphold.

Ministers say there are no plans to relax the strict rules.

Solicitors are reporting a “massive rise” in demand for Wills from people worried about coronavirus.

Failing to correctly sign a Will in front of two independent witnesses, who are physically present, in England and Wales is likely to lead to a judge ruling the document, and any legacy in it, invalid.

In Scotland, the regulations are less formal, and only require one witness.

The law is strict on writing a Will and ensuring it is valid in England and Wales. This includes signing it in front of two independent witnesses in person, and having two people signing it in your presence.

The existing law dates from 1837, the start of Queen Victoria’s reign, to protect individuals at a time of less efficient record keeping, lower levels of literacy, and less advanced technology.

The witnessing rules have been tested by the lockdown, isolation, and social distancing requirements in place during the coronavirus outbreak – at a time when many people want to finalise a Will at relatively short notice.

This has led to people witnessing signatures over garden fences and standing in driveways, with solicitors often overseeing from a safe distance.

The Law Society, the solicitors’ trade body, has called on the Ministry of Justice to make changes to the law, such as allowing the careful use of video conferencing in the process.

Ian Bond, who chairs the society’s Wills and equity committee, also called on the government to follow the Australian model, where the law is the same but where judges investigate and show some flexibility in allowing Wills to stand.

He said there were recommendations from the Law Commission in 2017 on modernising the law that could be used as a template.

But the Ministry of Justice said there were no plans to change the rules at present.

“This is a delicate area of law and we absolutely must continue to protect the elderly and vulnerable against potential fraud,” a spokesman said. “We will consider all options and keep this under review during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Source: Kevin Peachey, Personal finance reporter BBC News Website, 8 April 2020

Fogwill & Jones (Legal Services) Limited remains open during these unprecedented times with our staff working from home.  We are conducting meetings with our clients via Skype, Whatsapp, Zoom or on the telephone. 

If you would like to discuss your Will please contact Helena Grady  on (0114 2588899).  Helena Grady is a Solicitor and member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) with many years’ experience.

Please note that, although Fogwill & Jones (Legal Services) Limited operate from the same premises as Fogwill & Jones Asset Management Limited they are entirely separate businesses.  The only connection is that both are owned by Colin Fogwill. If you are a client of Fogwill & Jones Asset Management Limited you are under no obligation to instruct Fogwill & Jones (Legal Services) Limited and you may choose to instruct alternative legal advisers.