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Making wills through windows in Covid-19 crisis

SOLICITORS around the country have been issued with guidelines that enable them to break with legal tradition – but still stay within the law – in order to respond to a sharp rise in the number of people making wills.

Ennis solicitor Sharon Cahir said the guidance from The Law Society of Ireland, designed to facilitate social distancing, cocooning and self-isolation, had seen situations were clients signed wills while witnesses observed through the window of homes or cars.

Ms Cahir put the rise in demand for legal services down, not just to concern over Coronavirus, but to the increase in time spent alone or with family members, and the opportunity to think about the future.

“Covid-19 is bringing mortality into the consciousness of everybody,” she remarked. “I think what it has done is made people very conscious about whether they have a plan in place if they were to get ill. I find that the very vulnerable, who are cocooned, have been proactive over the last couple of years, and are more likely to have a will in place already. For those who are around 60 – and probably consider themselves quite young –  they are more likely to have put things on the long finger. Now, they’ve become very focused. We’re also getting more contact from families with children under the age of 18. Now that they are home all together, and there is a lot of talk about wills and what would happen if someone was no longer around. Up to now, they had put that kind of thing off, because it can be an uncomfortable question.”

The logistics of preparing wills is well documented in legal tradition, with clients ordinarily attending their solicitor’s office for detailed consultations. Now, in what a Law Society circular describes as a “completely new departure”, email, Skype and other online tools are being used to ensure everyone’s safety.

“We are very aware of social distancing and working with that now,” explained Ms Cahir. “If someone is in a certain age range or demographic, I would do a Skype call or a virtual call. For older people, I’ll go through things by telephone, and bring them through the steps involved. It can be a lengthy call, because I need to be sure that people are clear about what they want and the decisions they’re making.”

When it comes to witnessing and signing wills, the Law Society has made recommendations which it suggests individual members apply as they see fit in specific cases.

“If I am calling to somebody’s house, I will have inquired as to the person’s situation and their health, so that we can really keep that person safe,” Ms Cahir said. “So, I’ve put wills in letterboxes for people, who have then gone to the window and signed them. I’ll bring the witness with me and we will travel separately. Each will needs to have two independent witnesses who are not beneficiaries.

“I’ve had a myriad of circumstances, one where somebody opened the front door and had their own little table set up inside with their pens, and we hand in the will in an envelope and the person, who will be wearing gloves, takes out the will and signs it. The [other] witness will be there, but all three of us will be at a distance. It’s the same whether we’re handing it in through a letter box or through a window, because we, the witnesses, have to see the testator – the person making the will – sign it. Then, when it comes back out, we will sign so all three of us are still keeping in line with the Succession Act of 1965 and ensuring that all of us see each other sign.”

At a time when the rhythm of ordinary life is suspended, Ms Cahir added that the lock-down has offered many an opportunity to address some of the important items that we don’t always prioritise: “People are at home now and they’re more secluded than they ordinarily would be, and the business of life has been put on hold for the moment. So it’s an ideal opportunity to think about what might happen when we’re no longer around. It doesn’t have to be Covid-19, it could be the bus that hits us when we’re crossing the street. Making a will provides a road map for families. Family conflict is very real in situations where wills are not made, because there is no plan. So I think the responsibility is on people, when they have assets, to make a plan.”


About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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