Margaret O’Connell gives an update on new protocols introduced by the Law Society on making a will during the current coronavirus health crisis.
We are living through unprecedented times and wish all our clients safe and well.
The services that solicitors supply have been deemed an essential service and we are conscious of our clients’ needs at this worrying time.
Although our office is at present trying to deal with clients remotely by email and telephone, we understand that for some of our clients, there may be an urgent need to make a Will and I hope to give some guidance on how we are dealing with this need during this crisis.
The Succession Act of 1965 is the law that tells us how to make a valid Will in Ireland. That Act states, among other things, that a Will must be signed in the physical presence of two witnesses and each of the witnesses must then sign in the presence of the person making that Will.
The difficulty we face at presence is that we have to balance this with the onus on all of us to either self-isolate or keep a social distance so as to avoid the spread of Coronavirus.
Where it is necessary for a client to make a Will, we have received some very helpful guidance from the Law Society on how to manage this with as little risk as possible both to our clients and to our staff.
Firstly, all instructions for Wills must be taken over the phone.
This includes all discussions and advice to be given.
Secondly, where possible, the draft Will is to be sent to the client by email. Our client can then read through the will and ask for any amendments or ask for clarification or advice on any issue.
If emailing the will is not possible, the matter is not immediately urgent, and our client agrees, we can post the Will to them instead.
We will also read through the will with our clients by telephone and explain any aspect that might not be clear to our client.
The final aspect is signing the Will.
Depending on our client’s circumstances, there are a few possibilities.
Firstly, our client can come to our office and we will adhere to strict guidelines on how to do this as safely as possible.
Because the Will has, at this stage, been fully agreed by our Client by telephone and has been read over to them, the actual signing will be as brief as possible. The Will will be placed on a desk in a designated large meeting room before your arrival. You will be directed, immediately upon your arrival, to that meeting room. We have set aside a particular meeting room where there is no contact with any other member of staff for this purpose.
You may bring your own pen, and gloves if you wish. You will be asked to sign your Will directly. We will have two witnesses who will remain in the room but maintain a social distance. Each witness will in turn, witness the Will. You may then leave the office immediately. The process should take an extremely short time to avoid any potential exposure to you or to our staff.
We will then send you a copy of the signed Will, either by post or by email for your records.
If you cannot attend, due to mobility or other issues, or you prefer not to attend our office, then you may drive to our office car park. We will direct you to our private Car Park, and we can hand the Will to you through the car window, witness your signature through the windscreen, witness your will and you may then leave directly.
We may also be able to arrange to do this at your home if necessary, again through your car window in your driveway or, again where necessary, through your house window ( the Will going through the letter box).
Again with either of these options, you may decide to wear gloves, use your own pen and it will be done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
In rare circumstances, we may be able to post a Will to you and give you specific directions on how to sign and witness it independently of our staff, however this is our least preferred option as the potential for mistakes is heightened. If you do need to use this option, we will give very clear guidelines to you in writing and check the signed will after.
If you do need to make your Will urgently please do contact our office and we will do our best to assist you. We may also be able to discuss Enduring Powers of Attorney under similar circumstances where necessary.
Meanwhile stay safe and stay connected.
About the author: Margaret O’Connell is an Associate Solicitor and a qualified Trust and Estate Practitioner ( TEP) and is a member of STEP international.