THE LAST four months have been an extremely strange time for us all, so it’s entirely understandable that organising your legal affairs may have fallen to the bottom of your list of priorities. 

However, having an up to date will and power of attorney is always important, regardless of your situation.  While lockdown restrictions in Scotland are continuing to ease, many of us are continuing to work from home.  However, this isn’t a barrier to getting in touch with a solicitor to discuss updating your legal documents. In fact, you can do so without having to leave your home.

One thing we’ve learned in recent months is how to work effectively without having to see clients face to face. We’re lucky to have so much technology at our fingertips which allow us to communicate, and thanks to new legislation that was brought in at the beginning of lockdown, it’s now possible to validate some documents virtually
as well.

When it comes to writing a will, many people tend to put this off. Even once someone has made a will, they rarely review it. My advice would always be to regularly revisit your will to ensure it’s as up to date and relevant to your current situation as possible. 

Many think once they’ve organised a will, they don’t need to look at it again, but circumstances change. Family situations evolve, as do finances, so it’s important to keep on top of your will and ensure the instructions you’ve specified are appropriate and up to date.     

I’d also advise people to ensure they have a power of attorney (POA) in place.  A POA is a legal document in which you appoint one or more people to make decisions on your behalf should you ever become unable to make your own.  This allows you to have more control over what happens to you, should you be in a position where you lack mental capacity. 

As with wills, many people tend to put off creating a POA, or avoid it altogether. This is understandable, given the sensitive subject matter, but that doesn’t make it any less important.    

In the past, a power of attorney could only cover financial matters. However, they now enable people to appoint a financial power of attorney who would look after investments and bills, as well as someone to make decisions about care and welfare matters. Nowadays, POAs are sophisticated enough to cover both financial and personal aspects in one document.  

People are now being much more specific about who they’d like to take care of individual aspects of their affairs, and it’s not unusual for a POA to be quite lengthy. Many are assigning particular aspects to different power of attorneys, for example one person will be in charge of making gifts and tax planning, and another will have a say about health matters.  

As with a will, if you made a power of attorney some time ago, I’d recommend reviewing the document to ensure you’re still happy with every aspect.    

While it may be a difficult thing to think about, many will find that once they’ve opened up the conversation, it gets much easier. With virtual appointments and meetings now commonplace, it’s never been easier to take those first steps and get in touch with a solicitor to ensure these matters are taken care of.  

Ian Macdonald is a partner at Scottish law firm Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP

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