Surge in people making wills during pandemic, solicitors reveal

Solicitors are reporting a surge in the numbers of people seeking to make wills and have existing ones changed.

Worries due to the Covid-19 pandemic have prompted large numbers of people to put their financial affairs in order.

There are also anecdotal reports of people preparing home-made wills while self-isolating with family members.

Solicitor Sharon McElligott of Murphy McElligott Solicitors in Dublin said: "Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, many solicitors have experienced a surge in instructions from clients anxious to prepare, or change, their wills."

People were asking if they could prepare their own will. She said that for a will to be deemed legally valid, it must comply with the requirements of the Succession Act 1965.

Seeking legal advice in the preparation of one's will is recommended to ensure the will's validity and to limit the possibility of legal challenge, Ms McElligott said.

"Broadly speaking, for a will to be valid, the person making it (known as the testator) must be at least 18 years of age and must be of sound mind," she explained.

The will has to be in writing and signed at the end by the testator or a person in his presence and at his direction.

"The testator's signature must be made or acknowledged by the testator in the presence of at least two witnesses who are present at the same time. It is necessary for each witness to sign the will to bear witness to its execution."

Ms McElligott, who serves on the Guidance and Ethics Committee of the Law Society, said there are consequences of being a witness.

A witness will not be entitled to any gift from the estate and nor will their spouse or civil partner.

In the event of a will including a gift to a witness, his or her spouse, or civil partner, that gift shall be deemed void.

The lawyer added that where a spouse or civil partner dies testate (with a will) regardless of the content of the will, the surviving spouse or civil partner is entitled to what is known as a "legal right share" in the estate.

The extent of the legal right share depends on whether the testator had children. If the testator dies not having had any children, the surviving spouse or civil partner is legally entitled to one-half of the estate. If the testator dies leaving a spouse and children, the surviving spouse or civil partner has a right to one-third of the estate.

Where a person dies intestate (without a will) leaving a spouse and no children, the spouse is entitled to the entirety of the estate. If he or she dies leaving a spouse and children, the surviving spouse has a right to two-thirds of the estate and the remainder will be distributed among his or her children. The same principles apply to a civil partner.

Persons who are living together in an intimate and committed relationship may also be entitled to a share in the estate of their deceased partner, Ms McElligott said.

While there are no automatic succession rights for cohabiting partners, it is possible for a qualified cohabitant to apply to court to seek provision out of the estate of a deceased cohabitant.
June 2020