Virtual Will Signing - The Reality
On the 22 December, we received a new enquiry from someone who had tested positive with covid and wished to put in place a Will before Christmas (bear in mind our offices closed on 23 December).
Challenge accepted! With a covid positive test and the short timescale this involved:
· Firstly, a consideration of risk involved in taking this “emergency” instruction (similar in some ways to a deathbed Will) and the costs which would reflect this.
· Verifying ID by receipt of scanned/emailed ID documents and an online check.
· Online “meeting” with the client, ensuring that they had full testamentary capacity.
· Taking detailed instructions, including assets and liabilities information, to flag any Inheritance Tax considerations, and ensure there were no aspects of the Wills which would likely be contested.
· Drafting a Will and sending to client for approval or any amendments on the same day that the enquiry was received (Monday afternoon/evening).
· Arranging delivery of the clean copy Will to client in readiness for signature (Tuesday midday).
· Conducting a Will signing by two video-conferences (Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning), i.e. first for the client as testator to sign, then delivery return to our office for witnesses to sign.
· Consider and agree how to safely accept the return of the Will to our office i.e. without risk to the “courier” or my team based at the office.
This was the firm’s first experience of a “virtual Will signing”, which only became law in September 2020 with the Wills Act 1837 (Electronic Communications) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Order. So a good review of our internal procedure, which we had prepared in September for this was made immediately we got the enquiry (not expecting to put it into practice quite so soon however!)
This was a whole-team effort, as it required a Trainee to deliver the engrossed Will by hand for signature, and two colleagues who were (socially distanced) in the same room to act as witnesses. I supervised the Zoom meeting for signature (and in doing so could also be a “backup” witness if required and make detailed notes.
We were fortunate in that the client, although with underlying health conditions, was relatively young, clearly mentally sharp and IT-savvy.
At one stage the client’s internet connection “faltered” and apparently our reaction caught on the recording was quite a picture as the blood drained from faces! Fortunately, the IT glitch was a mere 5 seconds and not at a crucial moment. Connection was re-established with all confirming that they could see and hear each other clearly, and no important parts had been missed in the blip.
The Will signing Zoom “meeting” felt very formal, and there was definitely some nervous tension in the (cyber) air. I actually think this is a good thing, because it indicates that everyone was conscious that, even though an online and remote process, the signature is still a vital requirement to ensure the legal validity of a Will. This should not be forgotten, whether remote signings become the norm or not; the “formalities” are crucial as what underlays these is the intention and certainty of the testator to give effect to his wishes by the document being signed. It will be interesting to see how this develops. For now, however, on a “belt and braces” approach we have agreed to follow-up with the client in a few weeks to see if they are in a position to come in to the office for a “conventional” re-signing.