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Coronavirus - How to Manage Your Personal Affairs

on Tuesday, 24 March 2020.

None of us ever knows what is around the corner, as the Coronavirus pandemic has shown. At present we are all living through the most unprecedented change and uncertainty.

Those of us who are not frontline health workers, or involved in food distribution, may find ourselves with more time on our hands than usual, meaning that there can be no better time to ensure that our personal affairs are in order.

Managing Your Personal Affairs


How can I make a Will if I can't visit a solicitor?

In normal circumstances we meet with our clients in person at one of our four offices before taking Will instructions. This is to ensure that we get as much information as possible about their situation, and to make sure that we are confident that they understand the implications of making a Will.

In these uncertain times, however, while we cannot meet with you in person, we are able to take instructions from you by video link via Skype, Zoom or FaceTime. If you do not have access to one of these platforms we can, in most cases, take instructions over the phone. It is important that when we speak only you (and your spouse if they are also making a Will) are in the room and that no-one else is present.

Once we have drafted your Will we will email it to you, together with a letter explaining the clauses in it. At the time of writing our offices are still open, although most of our lawyers are working remotely. Once you have confirmed that you are happy with the terms of the new Will, we have arrangements in place to allow us to post your Will to you for signing. If you have a printer we can also send your Will to you by email, together with detailed signing instructions. You can print the Will and sign it in the presence of two witnesses. Your witnesses should not be beneficiaries of the Will. We will send you a copy of the completed Will for your records, and store the original in our secure deeds store.

If you are self-isolating and are concerned that you may not be able to find witnesses for your Will then we can suggest ways around this.

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How can you verify my identity if I can't provide certified documents?

Before we can begin work for a client we need to establish that we have satisfactory identification documents on file. When meeting clients in person we ask them to bring their passport or driving licence with them, together with a recent utility bill.

At present we are trialling new ways of establishing your identity without meeting you. We may ask you to use your smart phone to:

  • make and send us a video of yourself holding your driving licence or passport (showing the photograph in your passport / on your driving licence);
  • send us a photograph or video of the passport / driving licence itself (clearly showing the photograph of you);
  • provide a photograph or video of a recent utility bill or bank statement.

 

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Should I update my Will now?

If you already have a Will, consider whether your estate would devolve as you wish if you were to die now.

  • Are you happy with your choice of executors? (These are the people who will administer your estate).
  • Have your circumstances changed since you last made a Will? Have children or grandchildren been born?
  • Have any of your beneficiaries died?
  • If you made your Will before October 2007 it may contain a "nil rate band discretionary trust". Whilst this is not necessarily a problem, it may no longer be appropriate to your circumstances. Since October 2007, any unused inheritance tax-free allowance has been transferable to the estate of a surviving spouse.
  • Have you got married since you last made a Will? If this is the case your Will may be invalid
  • Have you got divorced since you last made a Will? The Will is still valid, but your former spouse will be treated as if they died on the day of decree absolute.

For more information about making a Will please see our Will Writing page.

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What will happen if I die without making a Will?

  • If you don't make a Will the laws of intestacy will apply.
  • If you are married or in a civil partnership, and have children, your spouse will inherit the first £270,000 from your estate, all your personal possessions and half the remainder. Your children will share the other half of the remainder equally. If any child has pre-deceased you, leaving children, they will inherit in their parent's place.
  • If you are married but don't have children then your spouse will take the whole estate.
  • If you are not married, and don't have children then, if they are still alive, your parents will inherit your estate in equal shares. If your parents have died, your siblings will inherit.
  • Unmarried couples do not have an automatic right to inherit on the death of their partner, although they may, in certain cases, be able to bring a claim against the estate.

For more on this topic please see our blog, 'Do You Know Where Your Money Will Go When You Die?'.

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Lasting Powers of Attorney

A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a legal document whereby you appoint one or more people, known as "attorneys" to act for you if you lose the capacity to make decisions yourself. This can include temporary loss of capacity, for example if you are ill in hospital.

There are two types of LPA, one for your financial decisions, and the other for health and care.

A financial decisions LPA deals with decisions about such things as selling your house and paying bills. When you make your LPA you can decide whether to give your attorneys the power to act on your behalf immediately (while you still have capacity) or only when you have lost the capacity to make decisions.

A health and care LPA deals with decisions relating to medical treatment, moving into a care home and end-of-life decisions. Decisions can only be taken by your attorney when you lack the capacity to make such decisions yourself.

We are able to take your instructions for LPAs remotely. We will email you the forms to check and, once you have approved and signed them, we will submit them to the Office of the Public Guardian, for registration.

For more information please see our Lasting Powers of Attorney page.

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What happens with child sharing arrangements when parents are self-isolating - will you be in breach of a court order?

Child Arrangement Orders made by Court and other, more informal agreements made between separated or divorced parents cover issues such as who a child lives with, and how often they stay with the non-resident parent.

In these unprecedented times with schools closed and families forced to stay at home, it may be difficult to follow usual arrangements. The welfare of your child is paramount, and should always be the first consideration.

For more on this topic please see our article 'Coronavirus and Child Arrangements'.

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Do you need counselling services if you are spending unexpectedly large amounts of time with your other half or want advice about separation or divorce?

Being forced to spend virtually all of your time at home with your spouse, is likely to have a detrimental impact on many relationships.

If the marriage was already in difficulty, then many months of enforced togetherness is only likely to make matters worse, particularly if the individuals have very different ways of coping with the crisis.

In the Chinese city of Wuhan there are already reports of a "divorce spike" after couples forced to self-isolate together have decided they can't take any more.

An online counselling service may make the time in quarantine easier to bear, and this is something you can either do together, or separately.

For more information on this, or about divorce in general please see our Divorce page.

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Are you a disappointed beneficiary? These are the ways you can challenge/make a claim against a Will

If someone close to you has died, and has left you out of their Will, then in certain cases you can challenge it. The grounds are as follows:

  • Lack of testamentary capacity - this is when the person making the Will was not of sound mind when they made it. When a solicitor takes instructions they are obliged to assess the testator's capacity to ensure that they understand the implications of making a Will. If there is any doubt a medical opinion should be sought.
  • Undue influence - a Will may not be valid if an individual has been pressured into making it
  • Lack of knowledge and approval - if a person did not know and understand the terms of the Will then it will be invalid.
  • Fraud and forgery - if the Will can be shown to have been made fraudulently, or the signature has been forged then the Will will not be valid. In such a case it may be necessary to engage a handwriting expert.

If a Will has not been executed correctly, ie it has not been signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses, both present at the same time, then it will be automatically invalid.

Before a disappointed beneficiary takes steps to challenge the validity a Will, they should consider the effect on the entitlement to the estate, should the challenge succeed. If the challenge is successful and there was an earlier will, the estate will be distributed in accordance with it. If there is no earlier will, then the rules of intestacy will apply. Depending on the situation the disappointed beneficiary may not have a greater entitlement even if the challenge is successful.

Certain categories of individual may bring a claim against an estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 even if they believe the Will to be valid. This can include a spouse, certain categories of cohabitant, children, and those who were financially dependent on the deceased.

For more information please see our Contentious Probate page.


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For specialist legal support with managing your personal affairs during the coronavirus pandemic, please complete the form below to contact our team.

 

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