Everyone at Lifeium stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the citizens of the UK. As we have always done, whenever our nation has faced a crisis, we will remain united and with a firm resolve, we will prevail. We shall rise again, stay safe and stay at home. We salute all the NHS staff and other key workers.
Technology is driving the way we operate, think and get things done in our modern, interconnected society. However, not all sectors of our economy have figured out a way to adapt with the times; the legal industry has been one such laggard. The current Covid-19 health crisis has forced firms to rethink the way that day-to-day business is done. Firms are rushing to digitise their services and this is finally having an impact on the area of wills, although it is fair to say that until now, will creation has effectively been quarantined from the influence of technology. The directions from the respective professional bodies on how to approach execution of wills differs across the UK, with the Law Societies of Scotland, England and Wales publishing guidelines for the remote and efficient execution of wills.
Lifeium’s will creation app has been built with the future in mind, and with the best interests of both clients and lawyers/will writers. It has been built around a modern user interface, making the will creation process fast and simple, applicable for the current situation and beyond, available to anyone, anywhere.
Covid-19 is driving an urgent digital agenda in the creation and execution of wills
You can tap and spend up to £45 using contactless payment methods, have savings in a bank without any physical presence, and have simultaneous conference calls on your smartphone. These are examples of the leaps in technology that we experience today. During the current Covid-19 health crisis, lawyers have faced issues in being able to take instructions from clients and see to the correct execution of the will due to the lockdown and social distancing measures that are currently in force.
Despite the guidance issued to Solicitors, there are differing approaches across the two countries; in Scotland, the Law Society guidance states that lawyers should post the will to the client and include instructions of the video conferencing tool to be used to complete remote witnessing of the will. The client should show the lawyer that the will is unsigned and proceed to sign the will whilst the lawyer observes via the video conference. The client is then required to send the will back to the client and the lawyer can then witness the will as per the date it was signed by the client. There is an additional requirement that the Solicitor must not be named as an executor if witnessing the will in this way. This approach whilst workable still involves a few mundane steps such as posting the will to the client and waiting to receive it back by post. Most firms have indicated that they are not accepting any letters during the current lockdown period, and whilst exceptions will be made for wills required on an urgent basis, post is hardly the most efficient method. There is also the large assumption that time is on the client’s side. The need for a will may very well be part of urgent instructions meaning time is of the essence and every minute counts.
In England, the Law Society guidance is slightly different; it refers to the legal requirements set out in statute and concludes that the solicitor cannot witness the will via video conference but can instead supervise the signing of the will when not acting as a witness. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), has advised its members to make judgment calls as to how they go about meeting the legal requirements and are advised to keep good file notes of any such decisions, always ensuring they act in their client’s best interests. It is also recommended that wills should be re-signed once social distancing measures are relaxed. A more pragmatic approach but not one that is immediately helpful with Solicitors needing to find out later if they made the right decisions.
Will creation has been ‘social distanced’ from the influence of technology
According to the Guardian, although there have been discussions between the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the Law Society of England & Wales, an MOJ spokesperson stated that “This is a delicate area of law and we absolutely must continue protecting the elderly and vulnerable against potential fraud. While there are no current plans to change the law, we will consider all options and keep this under review during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The appetite for change from the government to relax the rules has been lacking, and on the above excerpt demonstrates that the modernisation of will creation still has a long way to go. For us to truly experience the advantages of technology, we must value the advantages and flexibility that technology can bring to both law firms and clients.
Rules relating to will creation will inevitably change
Technology has become so pervasive in the workplace that it is now a matter of when and not if, the change happens. In November 2017, the Law Society in England & Wales gave its partial support for electronic wills but required that a further consultation process was required before ushering in widespread changes.
To implement a fully electronic system of making a will, here is our take at some of the key features:
- Acceptance of electronic signatures. The Law Society opposed the acceptance of electronic signatures to meet the requirements of section 9 of the Wills Act. Given that electronic signatures are accepted for other legally binding documents, the law society should change its position on this aspect.
- Remote witnessing through video conferencing (or witnessing through encrypted authentication methods not requiring physical presence).
- “Video wills” could start gaining traction. For various reasons, this could be impractical for a large estate, but provide key evidence of a client’s wishes and mental state at the time of making a will.
- Tools to assess capacity at the time of making the will. This could extend to recording the client at the time, which can be retained as evidence to deal with any allegations of lack of testamentary capacity.
- The use of cloud storage for executed wills. This would allow easier updates to wills and the ability to find wills quickly.
With the Lifeium App you can get ahead of your competitors and become an industry disruptor
The fact is that technology has taught us that the constraints within which we experience the world are subject to disruption and distortion, creating new business and engagement models. Adapting to change at the earliest opportunity will help law firms ride the wave of digitisation whilst staying competitive and ahead of the changes to come. Lifeium’s will creation app has been built to be future-proofed, and with the best interests of both clients and lawyers/will writers in mind.
The Lifeium App delivers five key benefits to legal firms:
- Onboarding: Our mobile app allows the very difficult part of seeking instructions to be compressed into about 15 minutes. The client gets involved in the process and there are some educational benefits to this, as it brings greater understanding of the process involved in making a will. The client is also able to later ask queries as to how certain questions are relevant to his/her wishes. This is also a valuable tool in assessing the current test of mental capacity as set out in Banks v Goodfellow (1870).
- Will creation: Once the client has entered their personal data on the app, a draft will is generated. This is stored in an encrypted database, ready for review by the lawyer/will-writer. The client books an appointment and makes the payment for services. The appointments are currently set to be via a video conferencing tool, integrated into the application.
- Client management: The lawyer has access to a client management system that allows them to see all the steps completed by their client. This includes access to the draft will, meaning that the next session with the client will be largely focussed on legal advice relating to aspects of the estate. The bulk of the work in seeking instructions is done, thereby cutting down on non-billable time spent by lawyers seeking instructions. The app has the facility to generate client care letters and is fully white-labelled with the particular law firms branding.
- Will execution: The will is then executed with instructions from the lawyer. As and when electronic wills are fully implemented, planned features in this area include the ability to sign documents electronically removing the need for a hardcopy of the document.
- Secure storage: Storage on a cloud database that uses the latest tools in data security. The app is compliant with GDPR principles and is encrypted using the latest security features to ensure the safety of the will.
The ability to carry out business using modern tools is the dominant driving force behind Lifeium’s app. Despite the guidance from either Law Society, the law can only be changed by Parliament, a process which is likely to take some time. In the interim, Lifeium’s app can not only help your firm carry on business as usual in the current climate, but will also equip your firm with the latest tools to work smarter and at an optimum level.
What will the future bring?
In the future, we anticipate rolling out new features to fully implement digital wills in tandem with the changes in the law that are expected to come once we are past the current crisis.
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