Could the ability to witness Wills via video have a negative impact on IHT planning?

Posted 13th Aug 2020 in Private Client

From September any Will made after the 31st January 2020 and witnessed via video will be legally enforceable.  While the need to introduce video witnessing as a last resort has been a necessary response to the current social distancing restrictions, there is a growing fear the change could have a dramatic longer term impact on some families’ inheritance planning.

Inheritance tax (IHT) is due when the value of the possessions, savings, pensions, shares, land and property and other assets in an estate exceeds £325,000.  As well as ensuring the estate is divided according to the deceased’s exact wishes, one of the main purposes of a Will is to make sure the beneficiaries of that Will do not end up paying more IHT than they need to.

However, if a Will is going to succeed in keeping tax liabilities to a minimum, it needs to be very carefully drafted.  Even a poorly worded or incorrectly punctuated sentence could dramatically affect the execution of the Will and, by extension, the amount of IHT that would be due.

The recent introduction of video witnessing to help when it’s impossible for the signatories to be present at a signing has been widely praised.  However, as we get closer to its official September launch, many professionals have started to consider it will also place an even greater demand for absolute precision during the drafting stage despite the Justice Ministry’s assurances the public has no need to worry as long as the video quality is high enough.

The only problem is that while virtual Will writing and witnessing are of course more convenient, video does not give a lawyer the same opportunity to guide their client through the intricacies of the process.  It may sound a little antiquated to say it – especially as we’ve now been living virtual lives for the last 6 months – but when it comes to being able to explain every element and every decision involved in the construction of a particularly complex tax structure in the required detail, there really is no substitute for meeting face-to-face.

Added to that, given the age of many of the clients who want or need to make a Will, they may find video technology a struggle to use.  This means communicating effectively is harder than usual and could end up with details being misrepresented or missed altogether.

However, despite these concerns and despite it being launched as a temporary measure, video witnessing could well become permanent.  Therefore, our advice is if you are planning to have your Will written or updated, it is absolutely crucial that you entrust the job to an experienced, fully qualified and, if possible, personally recommended lawyer.

As this blog is being written by one of those experienced and fully qualified lawyers you will of course expect me to say that!  Moreover, as money could well be tight at the moment, it may have crossed your mind that instructing a Will Writing Service or even preparing you own Will would be a more cost-effective option.  There are, however, some very specific reasons why you should always go to a law firm.

The first is service.

Lawyers are not set up to write as many low cost Wills as possible, we’re here to find the very best solution for you.

We’ll spend all the time we need to understand what you have and what you want for your immediate and extended family.  We’ll also identify any potential claims that could be made against your estate so we can take the required action to insulate you against these before they become an issue.

Once we’ve gained that level of understanding we’ll explain all of the different options and the different types of Wills or, if required, look at setting up trusts.  We’ll work out how best to deal with not only your savings, possessions and home but also the less obvious considerations like your pension and property and share portfolios and, of course, the IHT issues surrounding all of these assets.

And at every stage we’ll be on hand to provide you with a thorough explanation of what we’re doing and why so you understand every detail of your Will.  Just as importantly, this also provides you with the opportunity to challenge us if you feel any of those details aren’t quite right.

The second is security.

As qualified lawyers we have not only accumulated a wealth of experience in helping clients just like you take the best possible care of their families, we are also professionally obliged to keep learning.  This means we are always completely up to date with the latest law and practices in our respective areas.  As the law surrounding inheritances is fairly involved and subject to frequent change you need to be absolutely sure that is the case so you know the advice you receive is both current and compliant.

Our firm is also regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).  This means our work is regularly audited to ensure we maintain the highest possible standards. It also means that all of the work we do for you is both insured and overseen by the legal ombudsman.

It is impossible to say at this point whether the advent of video witnessed Wills in September will end up causing or solving problems (though I’d suspect it may be a mixed bag until the initial lessons learned are fully utilised).  But, as has always been the case, you can maximise your peace of mind and minimise the potential risks by opting for the service and security only an experienced, qualified lawyer can offer.

If you have any questions relating to your Will or Inheritance Tax Planning, please email [email protected] or call Deniece on 0208 866 1820.