Neighbours pass wills over garden fence as witnessing ‘near impossible’ in lockdown

  • london
  • May 13, 2020
  • Comments Off on Neighbours pass wills over garden fence as witnessing ‘near impossible’ in lockdown
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There have been calls for a change in will laws after people have said witnessing the documents is ‘almost impossible’ during lockdown.

There has been an increase in demand for wills of around 12 times during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the UK’s largest will writer Farewill.

The company, alongside its clients, is calling for an update of legislation because of widespread, ongoing issues with will making under social distancing measures.

Stephanie Meyer Scott, 29 and living in High Barnet, said: ‘I wanted to write a will as I’ve recently bought a house with my boyfriend – plus I’ve been making the most of more free time recently by getting on top of life admin.

‘We needed two witnesses and asked our neighbours to help, passing the document to them over our garden fence. We used a large tray so that we could stay two metres apart, but in practice this was really awkward and cumbersome.

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‘I’ve heard that lots of people have been making wills recently, and with the rules the way they currently are, I’m sure many of them found the witnessing part almost impossible under lockdown.’

Currently, for a will to be witnessed and therefore valid, the process is strict. It must be signed by two witnesses, both present at the same time and both independent from the person to whom the will applies.

For those self-isolating, as well as those who become suddenly sick at home, in care homes or in hospital, it means getting a will witnessed is incredibly difficult without putting people at risk.

It comes after it was revealed more than half of the UK population is talking about death more according to a recent YouGov survey.

And much of the demand is reportedly coming from younger people. Comparing year-on-year figures for April, 25% more under 35s made a will this year.

Millie Ismail, 30 and living in an apartment building in East London, said: ‘I decided to get a will as I’ve found myself with more free time recently and wanted to tick it off my to-do list.

‘I asked my brother and his girlfriend – who live in the same building as me – to be my witnesses. The only place we could think to do it was out on the road, so I put the document on our car bonnet and they each took it in turns to sign. I asked them to bring their own pens too.

‘It felt really quite strange, but I wasn’t sure how else to go about things in the circumstances.’

As a result of the issues, Farewill is calling for an amendment to the current legislation, and advocating for a ‘dispensing power’ – something which exists in Australia.

It gives courts the ability to determine what constitutes a will, where somebody wanted to make one but was not able to adhere to formalities.

The company is also advocating for the inclusion of electronic documents. This would mean that digital text, such as an email or even a text message, could detail somebody’s intentions and be legally recognised as their will.

Lorraine Robinson, Farewill’s head of legal and a member of the Law Society wills and equity committee, said: ‘The law is making things difficult for people in the UK at the moment.

‘We should be doing everything we can to account for the fact that people find themselves in challenging circumstances right now. A change in the legislation, on a case by case basis, to recognise informal wills would be an incredibly helpful step.’

In other parts of the world, changes have already been made. In Ontario the government announced that it will allow the virtual witnessing of wills via live video call.

Activist Gina Miller and prominent human rights advocate Baroness Kennedy are currently advocating for oral wills in the UK.

The Ministry of Justice has confirmed the Government is reviewing the case for reforming the law, but there is no indication of change this week despite the easing of lockdown to allow people to view properties and get the housing market moving again.

Farewill’s CEO and co-founder Dan Garrett said: ‘The pandemic is leading to a large rise in the number of people making or updating their wills.

‘Of course it’s vital that the Ministry of Justice is mindful of long-term implications and risks, but I really believe that – in the current situation – urgent change is needed.

‘Making a will shouldn’t be hard, and the more we can do to reduce the barriers for people, the better.’

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