McClure Solicitors MD asks government to issue "temporary guidance" on will-writing
Under government rules in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, most gatherings of more than two people have been banned, including weddings and other parties. The exception to this rule, however, is when people gather for funerals.
But while they remain permitted by the government, Plymouth-based celebrant Jo Brewer told the BBC that conducting funerals in the current situation is "heartbreaking" and that she has "never experienced anything like it".
While death is never simple, it is apparent that the Covid-19 pandemic has further complicated it like never before.
Andrew Robertson is Managing Director of McClure Solicitors, a firm that has provided a variety of will-writing and advice services to clients for more than 150 years. He told The Parliamentary Review that he and his team have a "real problem".
"We operate a free will scheme at McClure," Robertson explained. "It covers the whole of Great Britain, all year round.
"We service between 600 and 1,000 families a month, and invite a donation for each free will -- last year alone, we raised £63.9 million for charity.
"At present, all of our staff are working remotely, but our level of enquiries remain strong. This is most likely because people are finding that they have the time to consider estate planning. The Daily Telegraph has also informed me that there is a 30 per cent increase in demand for wills.
"This is not an issue -- through the use of technology, we can continue to take clients' instructions by video link, which means the client does not have to leave home and face the subsequent risk.
"But the real problem emerges when it comes to the signing of the will. Normally, clients would come to one of our offices, or we would carry out a home visit, but this is no longer an option as it risks infecting clients or team members.
"Advising clients to ask neighbours to act as witnesses is also not possible given government advice.
"I have checked all the advice from the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Law Society but there is no satisfactory answer.
"Legally, the testator must sign the will in the presence of two witnesses at the same time, and each witness must sign the will in the presence of the testator.
"The Law Society of Scotland has recently produced temporary guidance which is extremely useful, however. We are now authorised to witness the execution of the will by video link, and the solicitor or their assistant can sign the will as a witness once it is received back. This does then allow us to operate satisfactorily in Scotland.
"However, the requirements for the execution of wills are less stringent in Scotland than they are in England and Wales, and this temporary solution is only one for Scottish firms. We have offices across the UK, and so far, only those in Scotland can proceed by video link.
"It goes without saying that clients need wills and the charities that we ask clients to donate to need legacies -- and if there is no will, there is no legacy.
"The government, the SRA or the Law Society need to issue temporary guidance allowing solicitors in England and Wales to sign a will by video link, and to remove the requirement for two witnesses to sign in the presence of the testator while gatherings of any more than two people are forbidden by government advice."
You can read McClure Solicitors' best practice article from The Parliamentary Review here.