Covid-19: Homemade Wills and Charitable Legacies
There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has increased general awareness about the importance of having a Will.
For many solicitors, the past year has been an extremely busy time in which they have helped hundreds of people draft and execute their Wills and plan for the future, sometimes at very short notice and in challenging circumstances.
Unfortunately however, as a result of the pandemic there have been a large number of homemade or ‘DIY’ Wills being made. For some, this approach may have appeared to be a quicker and cheaper option. For others, it may have seemed like the only viable option, perhaps as a result of illness or lockdown restrictions.
Whatever the reason, it is often the case that homemade Wills can lead to difficulties down the line and an increased risk of post-death claims. As a result of this, it is expected that Will disputes will be on the rise in 2021.
2020 also saw Parliament implement changes to how Wills can be executed and witnessed. An order was made under an enabling power in the Electronic Communications Act 2000, which meant that, as of 28 September 2020, the law allows for video-witnessing of Wills under the provisions of the Wills Act 1837.
There are concerns amongst practitioners that these new measures could leave vulnerable individuals open to abuse and it is expected that challenges to Wills will increase as a result. Concerns may be raised that an individual was unduly influenced or coerced into making a Will because, during a video call, it is not always possible to tell who else is in the room (or behind the camera) when the person is signing their Will. This could lead to allegations of pressure and coercion which, if proven, could mean that a Will is deemed invalid and overturned.
The pandemic has also meant that many people have sadly lost job security which has had a major impact on their financial circumstances. This could mean individuals may have a greater need for an inheritance they expect to receive from a loved one which, in turn, could result in an increase in claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the ‘1975 Act’) in cases where the deceased’s Will or intestacy does not make reasonable financial provision for them.
Despite this rather concerning backdrop, there may be good news for the charity sector. 2020 saw a surge in people leaving charitable legacies in their Will which was likely caused by the fact that they witnessed firsthand just how hard the pandemic and consequent lockdown has hit the charity sector. As a result, 2021 could mean a welcome and much needed increase in legacies being received by charities.
That being said, for the reasons set out above, the increase in charitable legacies may also result in more people challenging Wills or bringing 1975 Act claims. This could mean that it may not be a completely smooth ride.
If you would like to discuss any of these issues, or have any other queries about Will challenges or estate disputes, then please contact Emma Bryson or another member of our Disputed Wills and Trusts team.