Managing greater demand for wills during a pandemic

By Jerome Doraisamy|16 April 2020
Lucy Dickens

Dealing with an increased workload as a result of the outbreak of coronavirus is challenging, but also offers new opportunities for lawyers in the wills and estate planning space, says Lucy Dickens.

Last week, Lawyers Weekly reported that there has been a surge in the number of Australians wanting to create or make changes to their wills and that the increased workload for lawyers in this space is being supported by new technologies.

According to Perth Wills Centre senior associate Lucy Dickens (pictured), there has been an “organic” rise in the volume of work for wills and estate planning since the pandemic began – “particularly in the two weeks after lockdowns [began]”, she said.

“Interestingly, we’ve also seen a significant increase in deceased estate work such as applications for probate and estate administration. This work is not related to coronavirus, although I expect that people having more time on their hands, combined with the uncertain economic times might be prompting them to tackle these tasks more promptly than they might otherwise have done,” she noted.

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Navigating the increase in work can be challenging, Ms Dickens told Lawyers Weekly, in that it is more difficult to assess client capacity when one is unable to meet with that client face-to-face and sign and witness documents.

However, neither scenario is impossible, she posited.

“There’s been a lot of discussion on online forums about the best way to tackle these issues. It’s nice to see lawyers working together to solve the challenges,” she reflected.

“Our wills on-the-spot service is usually delivered face-to-face. We meet with the client, take their instructions using our custom-designed technology and prepare and finalise their will during the appointment. We’re now providing these services by videoconference and emailing or posting the wills to clients along with clear instructions for signing.”

Some firms are experimenting with video signing, Ms Dickens continued, or advising their clients to make informal wills until they can execute them correctly.

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“Each state/territory has its own laws about how a will should be signed and what will constitute an informal will, so lawyers need to make sure that any advice they give is based on their own state/territory laws,” she said.

“Although not a new challenge, I’ve also dealt with more children enquiring about their parents’ wills. I sense that children are trying to look out for their parents who might be more vulnerable to coronavirus, but the obvious issue is that they can’t instruct us to make their parents’ wills. Often, they’re genuinely trying to help, but it’s important to be alert to the risks.”

Despite the challenges that lawyers in this space may face at this juncture, it is also crucial that they recognise the inherent opportunities – namely, that they can and should be reconnecting with their clients, Ms Dickens argued.

Making a will is a good opportunity to form a relationship with clients. We learn about a person’s family and financial circumstances which often means we can identify other areas where the client needs legal support,” she submitted.

“It has also required us to improve our processes and templates. We’ve converted letters of advice into simple infographics to make sure we’re giving information about things like signing wills in the simplest way possible. These changes will benefit our business long after the pandemic is over.”

Moving forward, Ms Dickens proposed that lawyers should ensure they are effectively managing client expectations in the wake of the pandemic.

Clients feel a sense of urgency and want to get their wills prepared quickly. This is understandable, but it’s important to manage the risk and know when to say no,” she concluded.

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Managing greater demand for wills during a pandemic
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