Wills and the coronavirus

Where there’s a will, there’s a coronavirus pandemic. Actually it is the other way about.

Even before lock-down our firm had seen a dramatic spike in enquiries and instructions for new wills, or updating existing wills. Although I had not predicted it, the wave makes sense, probably arising from two main factors. One is that many are now at home either working remotely or unable to work, so catching up on long-undone domestic jobs and projects (see my FB posts on gardening and outdoor maintenance – or just call my wife to check the ever-growing list with her), the other that we are in unprecedented times, and mortality is now a few squares closer to all of us on life's chessboard.

Hence our thoughts turn a bit to unpleasant prospects. We each and all hope to avoid the virus or the worst of its symptoms, but hearing more and more about deaths that get uncomfortably nearer to our own age/health profiles. To read of underlying medical conditions affecting deceased sufferers is an oblique and selfish comfort, but I for one have now had reports of people who are not old, not ill, but who have succumbed to Covid-19. In Scotland.

This isn't a learned academic treatise nor formal advice. If anyone is interested, we and other firms are still operating and can give individual advice. But I am anyway a bit of a will bore if given a chance. Not only is it a huge part of my day job, but helping folk to make their testament involves a range of skills and expertise – it is a fascinating exercise in psychology, human nature and sentiment. And that's just for me. For the average client, the process makes/lets them consider aspects of their life, family, friends, society. It is a rich experience all round.

I encourage wills, not just as it is my business. The last will and testament (that's the English law title – up here we just talk about a will) a problem-solving instrument. Few non-lawyers really understand Scottish intestacy law, and vague ideas that without the bother of a will it will all go to a spouse or children are almost always wrong, incomplete or counter-productive. Throw into the mix a second marriage, an estranged child, a separated but not divorced spouse, a cohabitation, it can be carnage if an unexpected death happens. Separated 20 years ago and not married to your current life partner? Sorry, first wives' club takes the sub. Eldest son went off in a huff 30 years ago and never helped when Mum was ill and unhappy in her later years? Tough, pay me, he says. No relations? Sadly, It all goes to the government. And lots more.

Without a will you can't leave a gift to a friend (I always relish the inclusion in a will of a little or large bequest to someone special, accompanied by a moving, heartfelt statement of why he or she deserves it), can't leave money to charity, can't do anything to mitigate inheritance tax. And the estate costs more to administer, with additional legal steps and court processes needed to wind it up.

None of us knows when we will die. A well-constructed will covers all the likely bases. I can't help being anxious in the days between the client coming in to talk over their wishes, and the actual signing, in case they walk out of the office and the 38 bus hits them on crossing Fenwick Road to get to their car. A verbal wish or will is ineffective (as is a video will, so far). I like to reassure clients after the signing meeting that their will is now going into our storage facility and won't be seen for many years...hopefully, but not certainly.

I have a robust will, tweaked over the years as family members have grown older/up, and property and assets have changed. I fully intend to stick around for years, and hope to be in for the long haul. I am careful about encountering others in these days of the coronavirus, and always cross Fenwick Road observing both the Green Cross Code and the Tufty Club advice. But old age is not guaranteed. So all bases WILL be covered.

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