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Now is the time to get one's affairs in order

Lynne Rowland

Lynne Rowland

Social distancing restrictions and self-isolation for the elderly and vulnerable have provided many with time on their hands and an opportunity to review their personal and financial affairs.

The role that family and friends play, as well as the support of professional advisers is crucial to ensure that current circumstances and wishes are reflected. 

This is an example of what can be done: 

Jane and Tom are married and have children aged 9, 14 and 16.

They do not have wills, although they have been meaning to put them in place for many years. Tom is a doctor who is working on the frontline of the pandemic. 

Jane’s father Peter lives next door to them, he is a widower and she is an only child. He relies on Jane for shopping and his personal administration such as paying bills and organising his medical appointments. He is becoming increasingly frail and forgetful. 

The Priorities 

Jane and Tom urgently need wills. They are currently intestate which means that one of them dies, their assets would be split according to the laws of intestacy rather than being left to each other.

In fact, their children would be entitled to receive a share - which might not be appropriate.

A good starting point would be to construct a personal balance sheet and to decide who should inherit which assets at death, and whether there are any conditions.

As a minimum, they should draft simple mirror wills, and nominate executors and trustees as well as guardians for their children.

Although instructions for the will can be conveyed to a solicitor via video or telephone conference, the execution of the wills will be difficult. The wills must be signed in the physical presence of two witnesses who are not beneficiaries or married to a beneficiary.

A solution, which has been endorsed by the Law Society, is to meet the witnesses outdoors or on either side of a window or door, with the Will positioned somewhere accessible to everyone. Signing occurs using separate pens, using gloves where possible and maintaining the required distance. 

Peter should also review his will if he has the necessary mental capacity to do so. He should communicate his instructions directly to an independent solicitor to avoid any conflict or suspicion of undue influence. 

A face-to-face meeting will not be possible at the current time; the solicitor may request permission to record any conversations and suggest that Peter re-sign and confirm his will later.

If Peter cannot update his will, he could write a letter conveying his intended instructions, with no witnesses required. Although a Letter of Wishes is not legally binding, it can provide helpful guidance and clarity to executors. 

Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) would provide Jane with the legal authority to make decisions about her father’s finances and care if he lost mental capacity.