Disputes over Wills as we emerge from lockdown
As we emerge from lockdown, we are seeing an increase in the number of enquiries made by concerned relatives that a loved one may have been subject to financial abuse during the period of isolation or that a Will prepared during lockdown may be invalid due to a person’s lack of capacity. Sadly, these issues usually come to light when a loved one has passed away.
Isolation and financial abuse
Financial abuse comes in different forms. No doubt many of us receive scam telephone calls and emails from a purported government department threatening some form of enforcement action against an unpaid bill. However, in this type of enquiry the form of abuse tends to be one of the following:
- Someone has taken control of a person’s finances e.g. bank accounts / bank cards without formal legal authority to do so;
- Coercing or forcing someone to change their Will;
- Influencing someone to give away assets, such as money or property.
As a result of lockdown rules, people were socially isolated and, in certain cases became dependent upon perhaps just one or two people and were cut off from their usual social contacts. This lack of contact with others has sadly enabled some people to take advantage of the situation and to gradually take over conduct of a person’s life, cutting them off from their usual family and friends contacts.
The types of enquiries we are receiving tend to start innocently, for example a neighbour or relative helping a person with their shopping during lockdown and which has gradually resulted in “the helper” taking over conduct of the person’s finances. In some instances, this has progressed to assisting the person to change their Will. If a person is no longer able to make their own decisions due to the influence or control of another,
In order to make a valid Will, the person making the Will must: i. understand the nature of the Will and its effect; ii. have some understanding of the extent of property which they are disposing of; iii. are aware of the people they would usually be expected to provide for and iv. Are free from any delusion of the mind that may affect their dispositions to those people.
Isolation and mental health
Isolation also has significant effects on mental health. As restrictions ease and more is being understood about COVID-19, it is becoming apparent that:
- Lockdown has increased the number of people affected by depression, whether formally diagnosed or not;
- People suffering with dementia have deteriorated more quickly as a result of social isolation.
- The effect of COVID on oxygen levels may be such that testamentary capacity can be affected.
- As many people have lost loved ones during the pandemic, grief can impact on mental health.
If a Will has been made by a person who does not have the relevant legal capacity, that Will may be open to challenge.