27 Mar 2020

The Coronavirus outbreak is a salient reminder that as individuals our own personal affairs should be up-to-date. Here is a brief guide to what you may wish to consider as part of a personal contingency plan.

Firstly and most importantly, we hope that you and your families keep well and safe during the Coronavirus outbreak.  

Irrespective of how healthy you are the worst may happen. So it is even more important than ever to talk to those closest to you and to look at making a Will or making sure that your current Will and any letters of wishes are up to date.

When a client talks to us about making a Will we look at the wider picture and provide advice based on each client's individual circumstances. Not only do we talk to clients about the make up of their assets and liabilities, but we also look at their life policies and pension plans to ensure that, whatever happens, those who they wish to benefit on their death will be provided for as they wish. At the same time we talk about providing for a time when, due to accident or illness, they may no longer be able to manage their financial affairs or make decisions about their health and welfare. 

Although it is not possible to plan for every eventuality, here are some of the things you should consider as part of a personal contingency plan:

  • Prepare a physical note telling your loved ones where to find key information and important documents, such as your Will, powers of attorney and any Advance Decision or Advance Statement. Give brief details of your principal assets (such as bank accounts, investment portfolios, pensions, life insurance) and whom they should contact in relation to your affairs.
  • Draw up a list of relevant accounts, including the website address and username or ID associated with each. There are a variety of 'password managers' and 'digital lockers' on the market that can store your login credentials in an encrypted digital vault, which a trusted person can access in the event of your death or loss of mental capacity.  It is also sensible to make a note to be stored in a secure place of the passwords to access your mobile phone, any tablet, PC or laptop. Make sure that you store all the relevant information in a safe place known to one or more key family members or friends and preferably ask for a copy to be stored with your Will. Make a diary note to keep this up to date and arrange for fresh copies to be stored, when necessary.
  • Review your Will and any letters of wishes to make sure they are up-to-date and reflect your wishes to ensure that the right people inherit from your estate and to avoid unnecessary delays and costs. 
  • Parents in particular should make sure they have appointed appropriate guardians to look after their minor children.
  • Make sure that your family know what your funeral wishes are. Do you want to be buried, and if so where or do you want to be cremated and, if so, do you want your ashes to be scattered in one or more places or to be interred in a family grave?
  • Bear in mind that when a person dies their assets are frozen until probate of their Will is granted. This can take many months and may take longer if you don’t have a Will. So you may want to invest some money in a joint bank account, which would pass on your death to the surviving joint owner, thus putting them in funds to pay important bills etc in the shorter term.
  • Locate Lasting Powers of Attorney (Property and Financial Affairs and Health and Welfare) and make sure they have been registered with the Office of the Public Guardian. Registration can take many weeks and in today's crisis may take many months. Without registration your attorneys will be unable to act. We can prepare a General Power of Attorney for you which can be used, if necessary, while waiting for registration, but this will only be valid whilst you retain mental capacity to manage your affairs, so these will be of most use for those who might worry about being unable to manage their affairs due to any practical or physical impairments.
  • Consider any particular wishes you have in relation to your care if you become unwell. A very recent article on BBC news reports that palliative care doctors are urging people to have conversations about what would matter to them if they became so sick that they may die. Ensure that your Health and Welfare attorneys (if relevant – see above) know about these, and/or look again at any Advance Decision or Advance Statement (see below). Similarly if you or a close relative has been in discussions with your GP in relation to a treatment escalation plan/resuscitation decision record, review it and ensure you know where it is.
  • Review any Advance Decision or Advance Statement to ensure they still reflect your wishes. An Advance Decision is a legally binding document in which you refuse medical treatment in particular defined circumstances and in which you can give wider guidance to your family and those providing medical treatment. An Advance Statement is similar but non binding and can be used to tell your family and carers about issues that are important to you, for example if you are a vegetarian or vegan or have food allergies or intolerances and what you would like to happen to your pets. 

In so far as you have not done so already, consider making the various documents referred to above. While most of our team are now working from home we are still able to provide you with advice by telephone and email or even by a Skype call. We can then draft documents for you and email them to you to print at home. When doing so we will endeavour to give you a clear indication of our fees for the work to be done and how long the process is likely to take. Whilst we can take instructions for drafting a Will, preparing a Lasting Power of Attorney and Advance Decisions documents by telephone, Skype call or similar and send documents to be signed by email, complying with the legal requirements that signatures be witnessed presents its own obvious challenges. Electronic signatures on contracts and many deeds are already legally valid in England and Wales, but Wills, for example, remain an exception to this. We have some solutions to this which hopefully will work for you and we will discuss your individual circumstances with you.

For more information about planning for end of life care, and the management of your affairs should you or your loved ones lose capacity, or if you are already acting as an attorney or deputy for someone who can no longer look after their own affairs, please see our Vulnerable Client Services document and our recent article, 'Planning ahead for death or incapacity'.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact your usual contact at Womble Bond Dickinson or any other member of our team and we will be pleased to assist.

Keep safe!

Thank you for your continued support in these unprecedented times.