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Do you need a pair of Marigolds to sign a will?

In recent weeks solicitors across Scotland have been forced to reassess how we deliver our service to our clients. For our team, thought has been applied to the manner in which clients sign important documents such as wills and powers of attorney. Rather than treating this as an obstacle to our daily lives, our team have been looking at creative ways to support our clients and improve the service that we deliver.

One of the main considerations for the team has been making sure that we adhere to guidance provided the Law Society of Scotland regarding best practice and the UK Government regarding social distancing. The key obligations of a solicitor have not changed (for example to complete identity checks, assessment of capacity and checks for undue influence), but we are definitely being more creative in our approach.

The traditional approach to signing documents has been maintained on occasion throughout this outbreak. Our North Berwick based Dorothy Kellas holds the internal ‘extra mile for your client’ award for navigating the local streets and managing to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Her efforts have led to witnessing documents through letter boxes, across garden walls and through windows – all whilst walking her dog Mylo.

I hold the (virtual) ‘long distance’ record for a signing meeting. Scotland to Israel – 5,523km. I also hold the ‘volume’ record since I was able to witness the signing of wills for an entire family during a single, but lengthy, Zoom call. I expect that these internal awards will be surpassed as video signing meetings become the new norm for our team and our clients.

The legal framework in Scotland is more pragmatic than in England and Wales. Private client solicitors can witness the execution of vital legal documents such as wills and powers of attorney using video calls. Feedback from clients has suggested that this approach may be adopted long term as it saves a trip into town and is far more efficient for our business clients. In almost all cases, a client can complete a will instruction from the comfort of his or her own home – and yes instruction have been taken from the comfort of a client’s own bed as well.

Our Head of Department Euan Fleming holds the internal ‘technical excellence’ award for pulling off a full blown notarial execution of an affidavit through a conservatory window. Owing to legislative requirements, physical presence is an essential requirement if you are signing in your capacity as a notary public. This differs from acting as an ordinary witness, which can be completed via video calls. It will result in an automatic disqualification if the physical presence requirement is not adhered to when acting as a notary public.

Other members of our team have been equipped with standard issue marigold gloves and home-made face masks to reduce infection rates. When the police have been issuing fines for people wandering outside without a reasonable excuse, I cannot imagine any implications arising from a solicitor skulking in a client’s garden, late in the evening, and wearing marigolds and a face mask.

The above examples are just a flavour of how our team are assisting clients with these important affairs, during a time of social isolation. The key messages from us are that we are here to assist and will go the extra mile to make sure that our clients can access our services. From a legal perspective you don’t need a pair of Marigolds to sign a will, but it can help.

The information and opinions contained in this blog are for information only. They are not intended to constitute advice and should not be relied upon or considered as a replacement for advice. Before acting on any of the information contained in this blog, please seek specific advice from Gilson Gray.

 

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