What do you do if you are in lockdown, have tested positive for COVID-19, but need to get a will in place? In normal times you would visit your advisor’s office to sign it, but now there are new laws in place that permit you to sign virtually, as a last resort. You will need to contact an advisor who will act promptly and has the necessary technology in place.
Be comfortable with technology
If you would like to, or need to have a will prepared remotely, you need to think about whether you are confident enough with technology to be able to manage it.
While you do not need to travel to your advisor’s office, nor he/she to your home, the will does need to be sent as a physical document. Once you have signed it, your advisor will need to devise a means to get it to their office securely and without risk to anyone handling it. The ‘courier’ will be confirmed with you, and may be a member of your family, or ‘bubble’, to ensure there is no risk to you.
What needs to happen?
- Your advisor will firstly verify your identity by asking you to scan/email ID documents and performing an online check.
- He/she will hold an online meeting with you, to ensure that you have full testamentary capacity. You can attend the meeting on your computer or smartphone, using an app such as Zoom. This may sound daunting, but your advisor needs to ensure that you have a good understanding of what your estate comprises and who may expect to inherit from you, and that you are making it of your own free will, without being influenced by anyone else.
- Your advisor will take detailed instructions from you. This will include information on your assets and liabilities, such as mortgage debt, and flag any inheritance tax considerations, and ensure there is no aspect of the will that would be likely to be contested.
- He/she will then draft the will and email it to you for approval or to ask for any amendments.
- Once the will is finalised, your advisor will send you a clean copy to sign. Depending on the urgency this may be emailed (if you can print) or posted. In some cases a member of staff may deliver it by hand to ensure it reaches you promptly and safely.
- The advisor will then set up two video conferences to conduct the will signing. In the first, you need to sign the document, and then the will is returned to the advisor’s office for witnesses to sign. You will watch them signing by video.
While the witnessing may be virtual, having a ‘wet signature’ is still vital to ensure a will is legally valid. The law does not allow digital signatures at present. The formalities are crucial, as a wet signature signals your intention to give effect to your wishes.
To be absolutely certain that the will is valid and cannot be contested, it is recommended that when you can, you should go into the office for a conventional re-signing.
Will it cost the same?
As virtual will signing is still a fairly rare legal transaction, and generally made with some sense of urgency, costs are likely to be above average. It means there’s all the more reason to sort out your affairs in good time and avoid the risks, stress, and expense of a last-minute job.