Executing A Will During COVID-19

As Will Solicitors in London, we have seen an increasing number of clients wanting to know if it’s still possible to execute a Will during COVID. According to statistics released by deVere Group, enquiries about making a Will in the UK have risen sharply, by just over 75% since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. Whether or not this is a case of individuals feeling anxious about the increasing number of deaths, people certainly seem to be more alert to the need for financial planning; and with lockdown restrictions in place, people now have the time to consider writing or amending their Wills to reflect their present-day wishes.

To make a valid Will in England, it is essential that the Testator/Testatrix has their signature witnessed correctly by two independent witnesses. However, with lockdown and the associated social distancing measures in place, not to mention homeworking and self-isolation to combat, it has become increasingly challenging for people to do this correctly and in such a way that ensures it is done correctly. Indeed, although it is possible to get many legal documents signed electronically, for lasting powers of attorney and Wills, the rules have always been slightly different.

To avoid potential issues with inheritance tax, contested probate, and the execution of Wills without witness, we have put together this post to offer guidance on the topic of executing a Will during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Why Should you Make a Will?

The COVID-19 epidemic has already impacted the demand for Will writing Solicitors across London. Aside from this, there are many reasons why everybody, regardless of wealth or status, should consider writing a Will.

  • It gives you and your family peace of mind that your ‘estate’ will go exactly where you wish.
  • It can help avoid any bad feelings or family disagreements about what you would have wanted after you pass.
  • It gives you the option to choose exactly who you would like to manage your ‘estate.’

If you fail to leave a valid Will, then the intestacy rules will ultimately govern how your estate is going to be distributed.

How Has Coronavirus Impacted Will Writing in London and the Wider Area

COVID-19 initially presented obvious issues, with perhaps the most significant of all being the signing of the Will and getting the Will witnessed. The purpose of having two independent witnesses for a Will signing is to protect individuals from undue influence and fraud. Under normal circumstances, solicitors dealing with Wills request that the witnesses be physically present at the same the Testator/Testatrix undertakes the signing.

Not being able to do this is one of the biggest challenges presented to Will writing solicitors and clients who need to make or amend a Will during the COVID-19 epidemic.

New Changes to the Law Impacting the Witnessing of a Will

On the 25th of July, 2020, Ministers announced there would be changes made to the law in order to accommodate the remote witnessing of Wills in England and Wales.  The new legislation was indeed passed in September 2020, and this means that Will writing solicitors and their clients are now able to legally get a Will witnessed virtually, making it easier for people to outline and record their final wishes during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Whether or not these changes will continue to be permitted once the COVID-19 epidemic is through remains to be seen. For now, the change will remain in place for two full years, taking us to the 31st of January 2022. However, what matters most, is that all local solicitors for making a Will and their clients can have peace of mind that any Wills witnessed by the appropriate independent witness via a video link will be legally recognised. In addition to this, reforms will also be backdated to the 31st of January 2020. This backdating means that any Will that was witnessed by any form of video technology will be legally accepted, as long as the witnesses you use meet the usual criteria and are fully independent.

Who can witness a Will signing via a Video Conference facility?

Despite these changes to the law, you must ensure that you use appropriate people to witness a Will signing. Whether you use Will writing solicitors to make sure everything is carried out correctly or not, it is advisable that you do not call upon any of the below people to witness a Will signing.

  • A family member or spouse
  • A beneficiary of the Will
  • A person under the age of 18
  • A person who is partially signed or blind
  • The spouse/s of any of the beneficiaries
  • A person who does not have sufficient mental capacity to understand what they are witnessing

If you fail to observe the correct guidance around who can and cannot sign a Will, it could lead to issues with the execution of your Will should you pass.

To find out the cost of a Will through a solicitor or get advice regarding any aspect of Will writing services, please contact a member of our team to get further advice.

OGR Stock Denton – Will Writing Solicitors in London

If you’re looking for the best local solicitors for making a Will, we believe we have everything you need and offer expert guidance over the phone or via video conference. As a trusted and established Will writing solicitors, we provide value for money and IHT specialist advice to help with all aspects of your estate and IHT planning needs.

The cost of a Will through a solicitor could be lower than you think, and in doing so, you can rest assured that all matters are being handled professionally and shall be fully guided by the current laws and legislations.  As North London Probate Solicitors, we understand everything needed to fully prepare a Will, and we offer value throughout the entire process.

Call us today for an initial discussion about our Will writing services, and a member of our friendly team will be happy to answer your questions and set things in motion on your behalf.

If you would like to arrange a consultation or have questions about probate advice, please email me or speak with a team member directly on (0)20 8349 5500.

Seeking professional advice for probate – understanding valuations and tax liabilities

Irrespective of how straightforward an estate may seem, using inheritance tax solicitors in London can prevent you from unnecessarily losing more money in the long-term. This post elaborates on some of the typical questions asked by clients seeking professional probate advice while exploring the probate valuation process more.

The system allows for a layperson to handle such matters themselves, without using any solicitors to manage things on their behalf. However, although an individual can get through the process relatively smoothly, we frequently, as North London Solicitors, are called upon to pick up the pieces. This process can be sectioned into three-stages:

Stage 1 – Valuation

The initial stage involves ascertaining the value of any assets and liabilities. While this sounds relatively simple, if you are dealing with jointly held properties or company shares, there are many things that the law will allow you to do when valuing such items. From an inheritance tax perspective, the difference between getting the valuation correct vs. getting it somewhere near to where you believe it should be, could be substantial.

Getting things right from the beginning and having the correct valuation could potentially save you more than the cost of taking professional probate advice in the first place.

Stage 2 – Tax Return

The complexities of the tax return, and by having a comprehensive understanding of what the rules allow you to do or not, can end up with a client seeing sizeable savings here. As trusted Finchley probate solicitors, we are experts in knowing the right way to structure these returns for the best possible outcome.

When handling all aspects of this for a client, we can ensure the valuation and tax returns are completed correctly and with the right information. This saves our clients both time and money.

Stage 3 – Court Application

Following an application to the court, or for a will, it would be after a grant of probate; that the court could potentially revert back with questions. These questions must be answered correctly and, in a time-efficient manner. If tax is applicable, then you must be able to show that any tax has been paid. Additionally, it’s imperative to know the correct period you have to pay the tax.

Many people aren’t aware that certain assets lend themselves to having tax paid over a 10-year-period instead of straight away. This knowledge alone can save a significant amount of stress and alleviative the immediate need to source those funds.  

In Conclusion

When people seek out help with probate-related matters, understanding valuations and tax liabilities can make a critical difference to the process and outcome. There are specific situations, particularly with tax allowances and the residential nil rate band; the rules around which are highly complex; particularly if someone’s moved out of the property or they downsize a property that may still allow you to claim those rules.

While people often believe that seeking professional probate advice from any North London solicitor will cost money; it may help clients save money while alleviating much time and stress in the process

Probate Valuation FAQs

What does a probate valuation mean?

Probate valuation is a system that helps to establish the value of a person’s assets should they die.

How long should probate take?

In the U.K, the average time probate takes may vary between 1-9 months. The complexity of the estate, its size, and the volume of applications to the local probate office can impact the processing time.

What is the difference between a probate valuation and a market valuation?

Market value is usually a broad estimate obtained by looking at sales of other similar properties. In contrast, the probate valuation is obtained so that HMRC will accept it to establish the amount of inheritance tax that is due to be paid.

What happens if the sale price is higher than the Probate value?

If a property sells shortly after probate is granted, and the final selling price is more than the value submitted for probate; then HMRC could either substitute the sale price and recalculate the Inheritance Tax Liability, or they may look at the increase as a gain, meaning that Capital Gains Tax becomes payable.

What happens if the sale price is lower than the Probate value?

Where a sale price is below the figure provided for probate, and the property is sold within four years of the date of death, a claim with HMRC could give you a refund for overpaying inheritance tax.

If you would like to arrange a consultation or have questions about probate advice, please email me or speak with a team member directly on (0)20 8349 5500.

Government announces temporary changes to identity verification and signing deeds

The Government has announced that from 4 May it will temporarily introduce new methods for verifying a person’s identity and for signing deeds in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the new rules, in addition to conveyancers and chartered legal executives, verification can now be undertaken by people who work, or have worked, in certain professions including:

  • retired conveyancers, chartered legal executives, solicitors and barristers 
  • bank officials and regulated financial advisers
  • medical doctors, dentists and veterinary surgeons
  • chartered and certified accountants
  • police officers and officers in the UK armed forces
  • teachers and college and university teaching staff
  • Members of Parliament and Welsh Assembly members
  • UK civil servants of senior executive officer (SEO) grade or above
  • Magistrates.

To assist with social distancing measures and the official ‘Stay at Home’ guidance, verification can now be done via a video call. 

The rules change, will also allow the Land Registry to accept deeds that have signed using the “Mercury signing approach’.

For land registration purposes, this means that a signature page will need to be signed in pen and witnessed in person, although not via a video call, and can be captured using a scanner or camera to produce a PDF, JPG or suitable copy of a signed signature page.

It is hoped that the changes will help property transactions progress more smoothly within the rules of the current lockdown.

If you require assistance with a property transaction under these unique circumstances, why not speak to our property team today

Fraud risk the main obstacle to coronavirus Wills reform

The Government has indicated that it is considering reforms to probate legislation to accommodate the challenges of the coronavirus outbreak, but has cautioned against any move to suspend the requirement for two independent witnesses, owing to the fraud risk.

Justice Minister, Alex Chalk, responded to a Written Question in Parliament, saying: “The Government is currently reviewing the case for reform of the law on making Wills given current circumstances.

“The constraints of the COVID-19 situation must be balanced against the important safeguards in the law to protect elderly and vulnerable people, in particular against undue influence and fraud. Having two independent witnesses provides safeguards to those making Wills.”

He went on to reject the idea of allowing privileged wills, which can be made on active military service, saying that those circumstances do not equate to the coronavirus crisis.

However, he added: “The Government is committed to considering further work on witnessing documents by video-conference generally, in the light of the recent Law Commission report on Electronic Execution of Documents, which will help inform potential reforms to the law on Wills in the future.”

Stay at Home housekeeping sees increasing numbers of people looking to make a Will

Law firms across the UK have been reporting an increasing number of people enquiring about making a Will since the UK’s Stay at Home measures were announced last month, limiting the circumstances in which any of us can leave our homes.

Coupled with the requirement for a Will to be witnessed in person by someone who is not a beneficiary, because beneficiaries otherwise lose their share, this had led to a range of methods of obtaining witnesses’ signatures from a distance, including the use of car bonnets, in front gardens or through windows.

However, in England and Wales, a Will witnessed using video calling would not be valid.

More difficult, however, has been the practice of death-bed Wills, where a Will is made in front of a lawyer in hospital at the end of someone’s life or where there is doubt as to whether they will survive. Visiting restrictions in hospitals have largely ruled this out for Coronavirus patients and those with other conditions.

These challenges have prompted discussions between the Ministry of Justice and the Law Society about what alternative arrangements can be put in place while allowing people to maintain social distancing.