New sense of mortality prompts more people to seek advice on wills

Fiona Kirkpatrick

THE pandemic is creating innovative approaches to a variety of challenges, including work, school, leisure, home life and socialising.

And now, prompted by a new sense of mortality, increasing numbers are no longer putting off the need for estate planning and are seeking legal advice on writing wills and getting them witnessed.

This has led to a raft of emergency planning, often in the form of 'holding wills' where clients have given instructions for a very simple will in order to have something in place in the meantime, should the worst happen. The belief is that the will can be updated later on when there is an opportunity to engage in more detailed planning.

Lockdown led to some inventive ways of having wills executed, bearing in mind the strict legal formalities that must be observed. Documents being passed between cars or witnessed through windows and passed through letterboxes for signature became commonplace.

Some legal jurisdictions including Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and Jersey have introduced measures to relax in some way the formal requirements for executing wills, and in England and Wales, new legislation to allow for wills to be witnessed remotely via video came into force on September 28.

This will enable the “presence” of witnesses to include presence via video call. But the legislation does not apply in Northern Ireland, where stricter formalities must still be observed.

Anyone who may have doubts regarding the proper execution of their will or other personal documents during the lockdown period should look at having those documents re-executed now in the presence of a solicitor.

Even where a client is satisfied that the content of the will does not require updating immediately, they can benefit from the peace of mind in knowing that there are no question marks over the validity of the document.

While the rise in holding wills is a measure that has provided some comfort and reassurance to clients, there are many individuals for whom a simple holding will is unlikely to achieve the level of planning that their complex personal affairs merit.

For example, clients with business and commercial interests, or those who have complex family circumstances, are likely to require careful planning, perhaps in the form of trusts or other legal structures, in order to achieve their aims. As time marches on, it will be crucial for such individuals to re-engage with their advisers to ensure this planning is carried out and that the holding will is not relied upon indefinitely.

There may soon also be major overhauls to capital taxes, specifically inheritance tax (IHT). The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Inheritance and Inter-generational Fairness produced its recommendations for wide reaching reforms to IHT earlier this year.

Proposals included the abolition of “potentially exempt transfers” in relation to the gifting of assets, in favour of an annual gifting allowance and a flat rate tax on all lifetime and death transfers.

Many will want to take advantage of the allowances available in the current regime if possible before such significant changes are introduced.

In short, don’t hold off any longer.

Fiona Kirkpatrick ( is a director in the real estate team at Tughans Solicitors and specialises in private client matters

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