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Witnessing Wills: Covid and Potential Fraud

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

What happens if the movement of people is restricted - how can all parties be at the same place at the same time?

According to the UK Law Gazette, during the past few Covid-19 months, there has been a 76% increase of people in the UK wanting wills. There has been an uptick here in Hong Kong too.

Most Common Law countries, such as HK and the UK, requires a will to be signed by the testator (you), and maybe your spouse for mirror wills, in the presence of two witnesses who then sign the will in the presence of the testator. This process nearly always includes the will writing professional. That is 4-5 people at the same time, in the same place.

Sounds easy enough – but what happens if the movement of people is restricted, and isolation is mandated by government? It becomes more difficult for all parties to be at the same place at the same time.

Solutions being discussed:

  • emergency laws being introduced to allow a loosening of the legal requirements.

  • investigating the use of video wills where it can be seen by the witnesses that the testator has signed the will, which can then later be signed by the witnesses as and when the will is in their hand. OR, video wills themselves are being looked at i.e. you make your own video of your wishes and then that is your will.

  • Some think two witnesses are one too many and are trying to follow Scotland, for example, where only one witness is required.

  • in Civil Code jurisdictions, hand written wills with no witnesses are very common and Common Law jurisdictions are looking into this option.

  • Others like the idea of wills by WhatsApp or the like, or anything that makes it easy – but therein lies the danger.

Let’s not be too rash, hold up those horses!

On the rise over many years is the ease at which #fraud is being perpetrated on people’s estates with wills being produced under #coercion, #undueinfluence, or pure #forgeries. One works a whole life and, would like to leave loved ones their estate safely. It is a heinous and high crime when individuals try to steal such a life's belongings.

The current #Covid19 virus is indeed worrying but there have been many a turmoil in the past and will be in the future, but the rules for attesting a will have been in place since 1837 and have stood their ground as true, tried and tested. In our mind at #ProfessionalWills, the relaxing of such well-trusted and established processes due to the pressure of the day, or the whim of some enthusiastic lawmaker trying to make a mark for him or herself, should be taken with much care.

There is good reason that Probate Offices around the world are sticklers at ensuring that those who perform as Executors of an estate, are carefully vetted by them, and the wills presented are carefully scrutinised.

#ProfessionalWills have a duty to be diligent and careful to ensure the estate is truly put into the hands of those properly chosen by the Executor. As #Probate Offices are sticklers, we are no less so, in ensuring the will(s) are crafted well and in accordance of the wishes of the testator and the law.

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