Wollens Partner and private client specialist Charlotte McGregor shares thoughts and recent actions undertaken in the preparation of client wills.
When you can’t conduct face-to-face meeting, how do you satisfy yourself that somebody isn’t being influenced to give you instructions and how do you assess whether they have the requisite mental capacity to make certain decisions?
This is exactly the situation we find ourselves in at this time during the COVID-19 pandemic. As lawyers, our work in preparing wills and lasting powers of attorney is perhaps more important now than it ever has been. We are included in the government’s list of key workers for that very reason and we are receiving multiple instructions everyday from people who wish to put their affairs in order.
Although the circumstances that we find ourselves working in have changed, our professional standards have not. We are still required to ensure that the individual is making their choice to either create or change their Will freely and that they fully understand what it is they are doing.
With a face-to-face meeting out of the question, we are employing the use of all modern technology available to us. We will conduct our initial meeting using technology such as zoom, Skype, WhatsApp or FaceTime and are finding ourselves becoming fairly adept at providing basic IT tutorials!
We have also seen lawyers attending upon clients through windows and even signing paperwork by placing it on top of a car! Gloves and separate pens being used at all times of course!
Now that self isolation is required, the use of technology allows us to take a tour of a person’s Home to check they are alone and still it enables us to create that personal bond which is so important when taking instructions such as those connected with the preparation of a will.
By ensuring the client is alone in the house (more likely now that social distancing has become a reality), we are satisfying ourselves that they are not being unduly influenced by anyone who stands to benefit from the instructions which are being provided.
Capacity is a different matter and is far more challenging under the circumstances.
For someone who is able to operate such technologies, it is possibly easier to form an opinion on capacity. However, if you have a client who is unable to operate the technology on their own, not only does undue influence become far more likely, but one starts to question capacity. That is not to say that the person does not have capacity but it is far more difficult to undertake the same checks that we would do during a face-to-face meeting and it is unlikely that we will be able to arrange for a third party capacity assessment in the current climate. Therefore, the more complex cases are proving far more difficult to service for clients.
However, for the vast majority of clients, we are able to conduct “business as usual” in terms of the preparation of wills.
For more information on how we can assist you in the preparation of your new will or to prepare an updated version, please contact the office and you will be put in contact with one of our specialist solicitors.