Q. How has the adoption of remote instruction-taking worked for the estate planning and will writing industry?
A. There is much to consider about the effects of both the national and local lockdowns – and the adjustments made to ensure client journey and security – on the estate planning sector.
While APS, and many other organisations in the industry, adapted our internal processes to enable all of our associates to work remotely, unfortunately the documents we draft (predominantly wills and lasting powers of attorney) still required a wet signature and needed to be witnessed by independent witnesses.
This proved to be an extremely difficult, if not impossible, task when trying to adhere to the social distancing rules.
The demand increased for these vital documents to be drawn up, but the rules remained the same around signing and created an initial delay for many clients.
After weeks of pressure from the industry to change the rules, the Ministry of Justice announced that video conferencing could now be used for the witnessing of wills in England and Wales.
The MoJ recognises that an increasing number of people have wanted to make wills during the Covid-19 pandemic, but, for those people shielding or self-isolating, it has been extremely challenging to follow the normal process of making a will and completing the associated legislation.
The relevant laws will soon be amended to state that the “presence” of the witnesses can be a “virtual presence” via a video.
This change will be applied retrospectively to any wills made since January 31 2020, and will apply until January 31 2022, which allow the government time to complete the ongoing law reform project relating to modernising wills generally.
There is no doubt that clients really want to do these documents remotely.
The sector saw an initial delay on creating these documents, but since the new guidelines were put in place, the number of cases written has increased month on month.
The client journey remains the same, as advice is given in depth over video or phone call, just as it was face-to-face, and guidance is given at the attestation stage.
Clients still have time to ensure they make any amendments or changes they decide after their first meeting, and many have commented this is easier now it is being done remotely.
I believe that a 50/50 approach will be maintained moving forward, as many will writers, estate planners and clients are now adapting to this new way of giving and receiving advice and, indeed, enjoying the benefits of not having to leave the comfort and safety of their home for this appointment.
The main safety measure to consider with taking remote instructions is the identification of the client.
This could be a long-standing client and therefore you have previously done this exercise. However, if it is a new client, certain checks do need to be carried out.