Royds Withy King lawyers turn to Zoom to meet requirements for witnessing wills

April 20, 2020

The private client team at regional law firm Royds Withy King, which has an office in Swindon, is using online and mobile video links with clients to meet a growing demand for wills during the coronavirus crisis.

By using platforms such Zoom, WhatsApp and Skype, the firm’s lawyers are also meeting the requirement of having two independent witnesses when wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) are signed. 

The creative thinking is part of the firm’s approach to the lockdown and the need to support clients and maintain services, particularly in areas such as wills and LPAs.

Private Client partner Ed Vidnes, pictured below, said: “We have noticed a sharp increase in instructions for wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) since the coronavirus crisis.

“It’s clear that the risks are playing on everyone’s mind and that people want to take steps to put their affairs in order. We’ve heard from a broad spectrum of people across all age ranges, proving that it’s not just the elderly who are concerned.

“The reasons for making a will are obvious, but often the benefits of LPAs are overlooked. LPAs allow you to choose attorneys to make certain important decisions on your behalf. Using an LPA, it’s possible to ensure that these decisions are taken by someone you are close to and trust. There are two types of LPA: one for financial decisions and one for health and welfare.” 

“He said instead of the usual face-to-face meetings, the firm was offering initial interviews via Skype, Zoom or WhatsApp. Taking instructions in this way means that clients could remain within the safety of their own home throughout the process, he said. 

“To ensure that these remote meetings are as effective as possible, we are providing clients with email questionnaires beforehand. These questionnaires allow us to gauge the complexity of the instructions, any potential capacity issues and determine which of our specialist lawyers should conduct the interview,” he said.

“We know that for some people, a video call isn’t always possible. In those circumstances, we are taking some will instructions by phone, but are careful to ensure that we check ID to prevent fraud. Due to these increased risks, this kind of meeting is only really appropriate in the simplest of cases.”

Once drafted, the wills and LPAs are sent via email or, if necessary, by post for clients to review.

However, at least two witnesses are needed to ensure that the necessary formalities are complied with. In normal circumstances, Royds Withy King’s lawyers would oversee the signing-off process but in the present situation this is not possible.

“The solution, although not ideal, is a simple one,” said Ed. “Asking neighbours to step outside their front doors for a few moments means that the process can be completed in a way that takes into account the need for social distancing and we’re providing our clients with simple written instructions to help.

“Witnessing could be completed over a garden fence or from across the road. As long as they are within the line of sight of each other, then they can even complete this in a field if one is available!”

The team have some few clients who were very infectious and ill. In these extreme circumstances one of its solicitors signed the will on behalf of the client, who watched and confirmed the process via video link from their bed. Witnesses were then provided remotely.

“At the moment there is no guarantee that these are validly executed wills, but it is hoped that in these unprecedented times the Probate Registry would consider the wills to be valid,” added Ed. “The current advice is that this is better than nothing and that hopefully the client will recover and be able to re-execute the will conventionally in due course.”

Royds Withy King head of inheritance disputes Amanda Noyce, pictured, cautioned against DIY wills which, she said, do not provide the safe level of reassurance of a professionally-drawn version. 

“We have seen a definite increase in will disputes over the past 15 years or so, as people become increasingly aware that wills are often open to challenge.

“It is very understandable that during the coronavirus crisis we will see people making wills in a rush and without legal advice,” she said.

“However, please be aware that this will only serve to increase the likelihood of those wills being challenged in due course. Do seek legal advice: it really will save problems further down the line.

“Lockdown really is bringing out the creativity in us all and proving that everything is possible with a bit of imagination and ingenuity.”

Royds Withy King employs 520 people in its offices network, which stretches along the M4 from Bristol to London. The firm provides a comprehensive range of legal services from corporate and commercial to family and private client.

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