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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Why ‘Lockdown’ is the best time to get your personal affairs in order


For many of us, we have spent more time at home over the last five weeks than ever before. We have been tidying old drawers and cupboards, buying cleaning products and DIY materials, and turning our minds to jobs that we have been putting off for some time.

Whilst baking, gardening and spring cleaning are brilliant for lifting our spirits, some jobs are far less appealing. One of those jobs on your to-do list may be the rather gloomy task of making or updating your Will.

Statistics show that over half of adults in the UK do not have a Will in place. This figure is remarkable given the age-old saying that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. Sadly, the coronavirus is a timely reminder to us all that, even with modern medicine, we are not yet invincible.

As we face unprecedented times in fighting the pandemic, ensuring you have a valid Will in place is vital. The current lockdown provides just the opportunity to do this before the rush of everyday life returns to some semblance of normality. With this in mind, we have answered some key questions you may have below.

What happens if I do not have a Will?

If you do not have a valid Will in place when you die, your estate will be dealt with according to the intestacy rules. These rules set out who is to benefit from your estate and in what proportions, depending on what family members you leave behind.

The intestacy rules date back to 1925 (albeit with some amendments) and have not been updated to reflect all the complexities of modern family life and relationships. For example, under the intestacy rules, there is no provision at all for cohabiting partners (even those who have been together for many years). Similarly, there is no provision for stepchildren, unless they have been formally adopted.

Even if you consider your circumstances to be very straightforward, the intestacy rules may not work as you intend. For instance, for spouses or civil partners with children, depending on the value of the estate, the surviving spouse or civil partner may not inherit everything, leaving them in a difficult financial position.

Under the intestacy rules, it is also possible for distant relatives who you are not in contact with to benefit on your death, or even the government in some circumstances.

Why should I put a Will in place?

Putting a Will in place allows you to specify exactly how you would like your estate to be dealt with on your death and who you would want to benefit. For example, it allows you to choose who will be responsible for the administration of your estate (known as the executors), make provision for children under 18 and choose who is to look after them (known as the guardians), make cash gifts and gifts of specific items, and set out your funeral wishes.

If you leave a valid Will when you die, dealing with your estate will be significantly easier for the loved ones you leave behind, at what will be an extremely difficult time for them. It also allows you to structure your estate in the most tax efficient way.

Putting a Will in place is an important exercise for people at any stage in life, but particular milestones which make this even more critical include the birth of a child, a marriage, a divorce within the family, or a change in your financial circumstances. Once you have a Will in place, you should review your Will regularly (at least every three to five years,) so that it can be updated to reflect changes in your circumstances, any new wishes you have, and changes to Inheritance Tax.

Should I just wait until life returns to normal to make a Will?

No. One lesson we can all take away from the Coronavirus pandemic is that we do not know what is just around the corner. Not many of us could have envisaged at the start of the year that we would be in the position we are now.

Whilst it may be tempting to put off this gloomy task for another day (perhaps when life returns to some sort of normality), Steele Raymond is open for business and the solicitors in our private client team are ready to help you put a Will in place or update your Will.

Can I make a Will and still observe social distancing?

In most cases, we can take your Will instructions over the phone or via a video call. We can then provide you with a draft of your new Will by email or post, make any amendments you require, and send out the final version for signing (with detailed instructions on how to do this in the current lockdown).

Whilst you may consider using an online Will writing company during the lockdown, or even making your own Will at home, you should bear in mind that Will writing companies are unregulated and homemade Wills are often fraught with problems, such as unclear terms or not being validly signed.

At Steele Raymond, our private client team has the experience and expertise to offer a trusted Will making service, and to advise on related matters such as tax planning, trusts, powers of attorney and estate administration.

*The information set out in this article is correct at the date of publication (4 May, 2020). The effect of coronavirus on businesses is a fast-changing area and so it is important to obtain legal advice to ensure you are properly protected.

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We shall be continuing with all of our work in relation to existing and new wills, lasting powers of attorney and estate administration matters and we can be reached by telephone and email as normal.

If you have any questions regarding the impact of coronavirus upon your personal or financial matters or are seeking up-to-date legal advice, contact Harriet Dormer on 01202 294 566 or email [email protected].

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