Following the televised address from the Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday 4 January 2021, in which all four devolved nations were now following similar stricter coronavirus rules, in another national lockdown. Here at Today’s Wills and Probate we wanted to see what effect (if any) this would have on the sector
Although in the short-term, it could be classed as ‘business as usual’, in the sense that that phrase encompasses video consultations and the like. But will video witnessing of wills no longer be a last resort?
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement, those in the wills and probate industry came forward to share their views on the repercussions of lockdown 3.0.
Michael Culver, Chair of Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE), commented:
“The sector has been through this before and will undoubtedly draw on all the learnings from the last two lockdowns to face this one. In some ways, this will make the shift easier than March 2020, but on the other hand there are new challenges ahead.
“SFE carried out research amongst our members during the first lockdown and the findings showed lawyers putting a range of adjustments in place. Internal communications, already important, became paramount as people worked from home; supporting clients to do things by phone or online took extra time but there was an upside as many reported building rapport was often easier and quicker; people found ways to do capacity assessments remotely; in summer, professionals across the country adapted to curb-side and drive-through signings; solicitors acting in connection with the execution of wills were named keyworkers; and many firms experienced an uplift in business particularly in creating and updating wills and LPAs and with probate.
“But the increased demand, coupled with the pressure to get things done quickly, system delays, childcare demands, and the extra time needed to look after vulnerable clients made for a highly pressurised period for many.
“This time around, the pressure is likely to continue. Demand for our services will continue to rise; isolated and vulnerable clients will need and want more reassurance and time; the delays in Government departments continue; and witnessing legal documents outdoors is harder in winter.
“This is going to be a difficult period for many of us, especially those who are suffering from the illness, or shielding to avoid catching it. Our thoughts go out to those who are struggling with the impacts of these new restrictions.
“Perhaps the key to getting through will be remembering that this is now a marathon and not a sprint. Setting clear boundaries, over-communicating, and thinking differently about how we work rather than trying to get back to ‘normal’ will be more important than ever.”
Ruth Heap TEP, Partner and Head of Private Client at Hillyer McKeown, said:
“The New Year arrived on a wave of hope and expectation, which has been dulled somewhat by another lockdown. While particularly worrying for those who are shielding, the legal sector needs to continue to step up, meeting shifting demands as they happen. The current situation is likely to see an increase in Will instructions as people look to get their affairs in order and an increase in probate work, as unfortunately people are continuing to lose loved ones. One major pressure on my team due to the pandemic are major delays outside of our control, such as the backlog of processing documents at the Probate Registry, and other institutions struggling to adapt to remote working in an area of law still very reliant on hard copy documents. We work hard to make sure our clients are aware of this, and that we will do all we can to move things along.”
Rachel Jones, Private Client trainee at Aston Bond, commented:
“With the number of daily cases of COVID-19 being significantly higher than those seen previously, it is likely that the Wills and Probate sector will be increasingly busy over the new lockdown period and we are already starting to see an increase in clients seeking assistance with estates of family members that have sadly died from the virus. This increase is also likely to result in further delays from the Probate registry, particularly as they move to their new online system for submitting probate applications.”
Eleanor Evans, Partner at Hugh James, commented:
“The impact of COVID-19 on the sector over the past year has been well documented, and I have no doubt that the industry will feel the effects of this latest lockdown.
“2020 saw a surge in people writing or reviewing their wills, and the current situation may cause a further spike in people deciding to put their affairs in order – by making a will, considering tax planning, and putting in place lasting powers of attorney (LPAs).
“The sector has been experiencing long delays at the probate registry, caused by factors including court re-structures, updated processes and systems, and numbers of applications. The probate registry are working hard to reduce the delays, and are communicating with trade bodies to keep stakeholders updated, but the continuing lockdown conditions seem unlikely to help matters and we expect to see further delays.”