In light of the novel Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, demand for will writing has continuously increased. People are concerned about the future and want to make sure their estate are in order in case anything were to happen to them.

However, due to the government guidelines, particularly the ruling on social distancing, Private Client Solicitors have had to change the way they provide will writing services. The Law Society has declared Solicitors acting in connection with the execution of wills as essential workers, thus alternative arrangements must be made to overcome the limitations existing due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For a Will to be valid, it must meet all the requirements listed in section 9 of the wills Act 1837. The act states that no will shall be valid unless: –

  1. it is in writing, it is signed by the Testator (person making the will), or by some other person in his/her presence and by his/her direction; and
  2. that the Testator intended to give effect to the will and
  3. the signature is made or acknowledged by the Testator in the presence of two or more witnesses present at the same time; and
  4. each witness either –
    1. (i) attests and signs the will; or
    2. (ii) acknowledges his/her signature, in the presence of the Testator.

These requirements mean that for a will to be valid, all three people involved (The Testator and witnesses) must be in the same room at the same time to witness each signature. However, as a result of social distancing and self-isolation guidelines, it is not practical or safe for Solicitors and clients to witness wills as they usually would.

Overcoming social distancing for will writing

In order to overcome such obstacles and ensure compliance with the formalities of the Wills Act, Private Client Solicitors have adopted certain measures. These measures include:

  • Passing the will through a letterbox for the Testator to sign in front of the window with the witnesses watching from outside and vice versa.
  • Reading the contents of the will to the Testator through the window, and then the Solicitor signing the will on the Testator’s behalf; the witnesses then sign the will with the Testator watching through the window.

Notwithstanding the Coronavirus outbreak and policies on social distancing, there are other means which can be used to ensure that a will is validly drafted and executed.

Although we, Deo Volente Solicitors, have suspended all face to face appointments until further notice, we have adopted alternative methods of communication such as telephone consultations, emails, letters and video calls.

At Deo Volente Solicitors, we will take instructions on your will by telephone consultation or email. We will also offer a ‘window service’ to ensure that your will is correctly drafted and executed, without compromising on your safety and wellbeing. We will always put the best interests of our clients above everything else.

Please rest assured that despite the Coronavirus outbreak, we are still taking instructions, preparing and executing wills. We also offer urgent same day wills to provide you and your families with certainty and comfort. As probate registries are still open, we are also still able to provide our probate services to clients in need.

In these unprecedented times, our experienced and friendly Private Client team can guide you in ensuring that your loved ones do not have to worry about what to do. If you require any advice or assistance on wills and probate, please call us on 01234 350244 for a free telephone consultation today.

The PPE Conundrum

The PPE conundrum by Danna Quinto, Head of Litigation and Family Services/Partner of Deo Volente LLP

I am an immigrant, a transplant from Philippines circa 13  years ago. Most, if not all, of the Filipino people of my age that I know of and am close with, who live in the UK are nurses or health care workers. This includes my best friend of 23 years, and many childhood friends. Most of my Filipino clients are nurses tooSo this blog is more than another legal summary. This hits close to home. Tall of the health care workers – thank god for you. May the law do you justice, may it protect you whilst you do your job. If it falls short, may moral duty urge someone to do something urgently to fix that.  

Some would argue that we do not send warriors to war with makeshift bulletproof vest and half a rifle. Some would also point out that the warriors that we sent to traditional battlefields had consented to entering a career laden with risks of having to give up their lives – did our health care workers accept  the same level of risk by entering their profession?  

It is a complicated, unprecedented, and evolving situation -  I know, we know. However I also know that my client who is a frontliner fears she will not be able to see the end of her settlement negotiations as she witnessed nurse friends being rolled to the ICU. I have also been asked for the nth time by the nth frontliner of a thing or two about drafting their wills. There is an air of perishability floating with the spring pollens. 

It has been widely reported that there is a gap in the healthcare workers (HCW) supply of Personal Protective Equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic fight. One news article noted “repetition of use of PPE” by HCWsanother reported supply levels as “critically low”. 

Even the Royal College of Nursing noted their disappointment and avers on their website “On behalf of our members, we have voiced our disappointment over the length of time it has taken to develop this guidance and include nursing as an equal stakeholder alongside medical professional organisations. Employers must adhere to this guidance in order to regain the confidence of the nursing workforce. “ 

The Guardian asked last weekend raised this query: “Was the UK as prepared as it should have been for coronavirus, including holding the appropriate levels of the right PPE equipment?”. The article then acknowledges the need for a practical debate rather than an academic  one. It then made a conjecture that logistics is the problem. 

Could logistics mean Section 8 of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulations 2002 where no person who is a responsible person shall place on the market any PPE unless the requirements enumerated as subsection 2 have been complied with in relation thereto. This practically means another layer of gatekeeping (justified to an extent, some quarters would argue) before we can get necessary supplies delivered to the frontliners. The Royal College of Nursing however avers in their website “The RCN is clear that health care workers must not accept any PPE hand made donations. Your employer will provide you with high standard personal protective equipment meeting health and safety standards” 
The Personal Protective Equipment Regulations was enacted in 2002, eighteen years before the COVID-19 pandemic. Was the apocalyptic effect of pandemic on supply chain foreseeable then?  Quite probably – several contagion films had arguably thought of it (pre and post 2002) 

Was the UK stockpile of PPE kept at a level with sufficient consideration as to the “Section 8 effect” during an apocalyptic supply market? 

The standard of care is the same for employers of HCWs whether they are NHS or private – it is the employer’s duty to keep a reasonably safe environment for its employees, to ensure that employees are trained and equipped to face the risk and hazards of their role. If a HCW is worried or concerned of their situation or his/her PPE, s/he must raise it with the employer and it would be most prudent to do so in writing. The Royal College of Nursing, for example, published their own request to the government for clarity and assurances in their website 
“On behalf of its members and in the interests of public safety, the Royal College of Nursing is seeking urgent clarity and assurances from government and health authorities across the UK that there will be: 
Priority Covid-19 testing for all health care professionals. 
  • Access to adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and hand sanitiser for all nursing, midwifery, social care and student nurse staff for use at the point of care. 
  • Full occupational sick pay paid from day 1 for all our members, with no detriment, regardless of where they work. 
  • Provision from government and employers to ensure all nursing staff can care for their children without a loss of income. 
  • Clarity on the measures taken to protect pregnant and vulnerable nursing staff. 
  • Stringent measures in place to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of staff by addressing fatigue, hydration and issues of abuse towards staff.” 
However, there is a far pressing issue than titillating legal conundrum. 
The problem is clear – our HCWs need PPE stat. 
The sooner that we solve the logistic issues the better, whether it is a bureaucratic check point that is holding it up or the apocalyptic disruption of supply chain. Get on with it.. 
Crisis calls for creative , swift, and bold answers – I have seen countries with no luxury of comprehensive health and safety regulations surviving the crisis by encouraging ingenuity of their people – I have seen the internet laced with news about handmade visors from acetate, gowns made by local seamstress in different colours to lift the spirits, and ski goggles donned by HCWs as an alternative face protection equipment. 
Nonetheless, we also know that hasty and incomplete solutions can be dangerous. 
If our HCWs used non-prescribed and donated PPE as a result of shortage of prescribed  PPE and ended up being severely stricken by COVID-19, would this be seen as contributory negligent if they are to mount a personal injury claim? How will we argue causation? How can we prove causation? 

There are a lot of questions. I understand the government are “triaging” issues  that they need to deal with. It is hoped that the RCN and all HCWs receive answers and assurances they deserve, and that HCWs shall not be put a position where they need to contemplate choosing to break their contractual obligation in order to keep themselves safe. 

Potential Impacts on Law Firms during COVID-19.

 
Potential Impacts on Law Firms during COVID-19.
By Rosie Crownshaw, Trainee Solicitor 
In these unprecedented times every industry is going to feel the impact of Covid 19- but what effect will this outbreak have on the legal sector? And to what extent?
 
Let us begin with the area of Law I currently work in – the fast-paced world of Conveyancing. A house move alone provides its stresses for any client… now we have to factor in the current climate: that stress has been amplified exponentially.  
The government has directed that moving to a new house is not essential and that law firms should advise their clients against the conveyancing of any properties in order to prevent the spread of the viral disease. With the likes of house viewings, witnessing documents, the physical act of moving to a new house: allowing such to continue promotes bad behaviours during the current pandemic: we need to enforce social distancing and not put people at risk unnecessarily.
Many law firms are ‘old school’- they rely on sending crucial documents by fax, needing physical files present and having a constant access to their tangible archives. Unfortunately, working from home doesn’t come with a built-in fax machine! Majority of conveyancing firms are not paperless and still need access to printers, files and scanners and often have multiple people working on the same files. Communication needs to be key. I think many firms will realize that their workforce is the backbone to their business and, furthermore, that their employees are their best investment.
We are hearing further cases of clients- understandably– having instructed their solicitors to put a hold on their matters as a result of the uncertainty due to Covid 19. This has put many people (those clients wanting to continue with matters) in a blip as they may need the sale proceeds to pay for crucial expenses i.e, debt, care home fees of a parent etc.
I believe that, after the dust settles, there will be a lot of houses on the market as people will want a quick sale as a means to have quick access to funds to cover any deficit that they have occurred during the Isolation period of the virus.
 
Self-isolating can be a testing time for anyone- mentally, physically and emotionally. Especially for a married couple. The combination of boredom, a lack of household chores to and cabin fever causates a more probable ground for arguments. I do sincerely hope majority of them will not escalate but-you never know- one misplaced sock could be the straw that broke the camels back and, with limited access to couples counselling, divorce proceedings could be undertaken for some couples. Also, I pose the question: what does it mean for supervised visits with children and a parent? You’d hope said parent would not risk both themselves and their child for their allocated time, so will the courts give them time in lieu?
 
We are witnessing an unfortunate amount of businesses closing and thus putting jobs and livelihoods at risks- on a positive note, PM Boris Johnson pledged to pay 80% of staff wages out of the Government’s pocket after noticing the effects of thus ‘lockdown’. Despite this, some companies are trying to enforce zero-hour contracts upon their employees – can they do this? Has their contract made provisions or included a force majeure clause? The litigation departments of all law firms will see a rise in business as people want clarification on whether companies have the legal right to end their contract, put them on furlough etc. Which poses a further predicament to Litigators, as although there is a spike in business, it is unlikely that they will be able to take instructions if a client is unable to pay fees due to the economic ramifications of this outbreak. (Unless they offer legal aide).
 
In conclusion, my personal opinion is that law firms are likely to see a dip in work as many clients want to see how we as a country deal with the current pandemic before making any drastic, financial commitments i.e, purchasing a house, divorcing a partner. After the “lock down” period ends work will come in very quickly as the populace has held off. This current period will test the character of any firm- big or small- and prove their dedication on providing the best service to their clients through thick and thin. Like the old saying goes tough times don’t last but tough people do! And as an employee of a firm, that is confident we can pull through this together and continue to grow our business, we will come through this stronger than ever.