In these unprecedented times, it seems that the one thing we can be certain of, is uncertainty. COVID-19 has affected every aspect of our lives over the past weeks and months in a way that would not have seemed possible just 6 months ago. In this article, we consider some of the questions people may have about the impact of COVID-19 on dealing with Wills, Probate and Powers of Attorney.
- What will happen if I pass away without having a Will in place?
If you die without leaving a valid Will, your estate will pass under the Intestacy Rules, which govern who would inherit from your estate. Usually a spouse or civil partner would inherit first, followed by children and then more distant relatives such as parents and siblings. An unmarried partner would not inherit under the Intestacy Rules.
Putting a valid Will in place ensures that your estate will pass in accordance with your wishes so that the family and friends that you want to benefit, will do so.
- Is it possible to prepare a new Will or update an old one when social distancing and/or self-isolating?
Dawson Hart have put new measures in place so that instructions can be taken by phone or video call, so that you do not have to come into the office. We can then send the draft documents to you by email to review.
Things are a little more tricky when it comes to signing the Will. Your signature needs to be witnessed by 2 independent witnesses (they must be over 18, must not be related to you and must not feature in the Will as a beneficiary). This means that it is not usually possible for somebody living with you to witness your signature. However, while the witnesses must watch you sign the Will, they do not have to be right beside you – they could watch you over a garden fence or through a window. If it is not possible for you to find witnesses at home, we have put measures in place for clients to come to the office to sign them without having to come into the office. Will signings have been taking place in our car park through car windows, or through the office windows.
This means that it should still be possible for you to sign your Will, while maintaining social distancing or self-isolation.
- Can I help an elderly relative who is self-isolating and unable to get to the bank deal with their affairs?
In order to deal with another person’s finances, you must have legal authority. If that person has a Lasting Power of Attorney for Property and Finance or Enduring Power of Attorney in place appointing you as their attorney, you may be able to deal with their affairs. This will depend on whether the person has mental capacity and the specific powers granted by the Power of Attorney.
If they do not have one of these in place, they could prepare Lasting Powers of Attorney, however, the process of preparing and registering the documents can take more than 3 months and during that time you will not have the authority to act.
In some circumstances, it may be possible to prepare and sign a general power of attorney, which could give you the authority to deal with their finances for the time-being, but not if they were to lose their mental capacity.
Your relative should seek advice before signing any legal document to ensure that it adequately suits their needs.
- I already act as an attorney (or as a deputy) for a vulnerable person who has lost capacity. Can I continue my regular visits to them to check on them and reassure them about everything that is happening at the moment?
Your duty is to act in the vulnerable person’s best interests, which means doing what you can to keep them safe. Government guidance is clear in stating that vulnerable people should be self-isolating and you should therefore avoid regular visits. Although it may be hard for a person who lacks capacity to understand the situation, it is important not to expose them to unnecessary risk. Consider staying in contact by telephone or video call if possible and stay in touch with the vulnerable person’s care team to ensure that they are well and have all that they need.
- My relative has passed away– what should I do to deal with their estate?
If a person has passed away leaving a Will, the executors appointed in the Will are responsible for dealing with the estate, carrying out the instructions in the Will. If the person did not leave a valid Will, a family member will usually be responsible, and who this family member should be and who inherits from the estate will be governed by the Intestacy Rules.
Dealing with a person’s estate can be a lengthy and complex process. We are able to help people in this situation in line with social distancing guidelines. Meetings can be held by phone or video call, with paperwork sent by email where possible or by post if necessary. This means that dealing with an estate will not have to wait until after the current crisis has passed, giving you peace of mind in knowing that matters are being dealt with and that we will be there to give as much advice and assistance as you require.
If you would like to discuss any of the topics mentioned in this article further, please get in touch with Elizabeth Mitchell in our Private Client department and we would be very happy to assist.