More People in the UK Are Writing Wills, But Rules Clash With Social Distancing Measures

Many more people have been looking to get their affairs in order since the coronavirus outbreak, as some firms see up to a 70% increase in wills, but new government rules make signing and witnessing the will difficult.

A woman signing her will

The coronavirus outbreak has affected all aspects of our daily lives, and as a result of all the uncertainty and worry surrounding the pandemic, companies have seen a significant increase in the number of people wanting to know more about will-writing, life insurance policies and inheritance tax planning.

It is understandable that during these difficult times, people are worried about their loves ones and their hard-earned assets, especially regarding what will happen to them when they are no longer here.

When writing a will, the Wills Act of 1837 states that a will is not legally valid unless the signing of the will “is made or acknowledged by the testator in the presence of two or more witnesses present at the same time.”

However, the social distancing rules that have been enforced in the UK are currently making it difficult to abide by these rules. 

The Law Society is currently trying to get the government to “losen rules” regarding will-writing, which we will explain in more detail below.

What is a will and why do I need one?

In simple terms, a will is a document that states exactly what the testator (the person writing the will) wants to happen to their estate when they pass away.

A person’s estate generally consists of their assets like cash savings, property, possessions, businesses, etc. 

A will helps you declare who gets what when you pass away as per your personal wishes, avoiding the rules of intestacy, potential family disputes and your legacy being passed down to people who you may not wish to give anything to.

For a will to be legally valid, and to make sure your exact wishes are carried out in the event of your death, two witnesses must be present to observe you signing your own will. Once they’ve witnessed that, they must both sign your will in your presence, but neither witness needs to know or see what you’ve actually written in the will.

Due to recent social distancing measures, however, this is currently a real challenge for many who want to get a will in place right now.

Dying intestate - What does it mean?

If someone dies intestate, it means that they have passed away without having a will in place, and therefore, their estate will be managed and distributed as per the rules of intestacy. These rules do not take any personal wishes into consideration, and your assets will be distributed in-line with UK law, which, in most cases, is not what people want.

New intestacy rules for those who pass away without a will mean that the spouse is entitled to the first £270,000 of the estate, plus half of what’s remaining - the other half is then passed onto any children. If someone’s estate is worth less than £270,000 then the children will not receive anything.

If there are no family members alive at the time of death, all of your ‘unclaimed estate’ will be handed over to HMRC.

These are some of the main reasons why writing a will is so important.

Learn more in our article here: Children left in the dark and spouses to receive 270k if their partner dies without a will

A demand on government to relax two-witness rule

Many will-writing solicitors and services across the country have commented on the fact that social distancing is making the signing and witnessing of a will a “huge practical challenge”.

Witnesses must not be beneficiaries of the will or executors (those in charge of probate and managing the will), so this means that someone outside of the household will need to come and witness the signing - but how can this be done with the current 2-meter social distancing rule?

The Law Society is currently asking the Ministry of Justice to consider these changes to make it easier for people wanting to make a will:

  • Allow only one witness for the signing of a will, rather than two.
  • Allow Skype or FaceTime recordings of will signatures to be shown to judges.
  • Follow the methods used by other European countries - if you create and sign a handwritten will, it is considered valid in some countries, for example.

While the Ministry of Justice is currently dealing with many complex, urgent matters regarding trials and custody rights, it is important that any rule changes regarding will-writing are accurate and well thought-out, as it will be very difficult to revoke these changes later.

The Government has responded by saying: “This is a delicate area of law and we absolutely must continue to protect the elderly and vulnerable against potential undue influence and fraud.

While there are no current plans to change the law, we will consider all options and keep this under review during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

How to write a will - Google Trends show a demand in ‘online wills’

From March 1st to March 28th 2020, Google Trends identified a peak in people searching for “online wills”.

The number of people typing in the term “online wills” increased from 25 to 100 per month in the UK, whereas the U.S saw an increase of 41 to 100 over the 28-day period. This suggests that people are finding online services much more useful than a costly, time-consuming solicitor - plus, they can do it from the comfort of their own home without having to interact with others.

With people now forced to stay at home, writing a will online has become the most common way to make a valid will, and with many online will-writing companies available, the cost is a lot lower compared to the price of using a solicitor.

Will-writing services, such as Will.Services provide a unique online service where people can make a will themselves. The added benefit is that they work with legal professionals, who can check every detail of the will for you to make sure it’s legally-binding and accurate. 

Tip: Avoid using a ‘DIY will kit’, as this service doesn’t offer any extra, legal and professional support - you are simply left to do it all on your own, without knowing whether or not it is legally valid.

Read our Essential Guide to Cheap and Free Wills Services in the UK for more information about your will-writing options.

How much does it cost to write a will?

With an online will-writing service like Wills.Services, you can create your will online from as little as £29.99 (limited time offer - usually £39.99), which is the cost of a basic will.

As you can see, using an online will-writing service is a far cheaper option than using a solicitor, which would undoubtedly cost hundreds of pounds.

To get started today, register with them now.

How to get a will witnessed in the coronavirus lockdown

While the rules regarding will witnessing are currently being revised by the Ministry of Justice, it is highly important that those who want to write a will, particularly those who are vulnerable to catching COVID-19, ensure that they do so safely.

Kingsley Napley has suggested the following ways to help:

  • Use park benches to witness the signing of the will, rotating and keeping a safe distance accordingly.
  • Get your neighbours to witness and sign the will in the comfort of their own gardens, but maintaining a safe distance.
  • Stand on your doorstep while your witnesses stand on the pavement, all at least 2 meters apart.

The above actions depend entirely on how isolated you are required to be.

REMEMBER, the people who are benefiting from your will (i.e. children, spouse, etc.) must not sign the will - if they do, this is likely to invalidate your will and your loved ones will not receive what you wished them to.

At Bobatoo, we recommend using an online will-writing service like Wills.Services to avoid having any contact with other people and keep the costs low, using the above methods, where possible, to get your witnesses to sign.

Be sure to read our related guides below for more information on wills and start thinking about writing your will as soon as possible to protect your assets and the legacy that you want your loved ones to inherit.

Related articles:

Your Essential Guide to Cheap and Free wills Services in the UK

Children left in the dark and spouses to receive £270k if their partner dies without a will

Making a will – How to write a will in the UK

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