How Cunningtons Estate Planning department dealt with the unique problems thrown up by Covid - lessons from an epidemic
Covid-19 had a significant impact on the way that many businesses operate, even years after the first lockdown. We look at the testing effects on Cunningtons’ Estate Planning and Wills team
With social distancing and government restrictions in place, we all had to adapt how we operate while ensuring that things continue to run as smoothly as possible.
Covid – The initial disruption
As England & Wales entered its first lockdown in March 2020, general restrictions were put in place to safeguard the public.
The issues that particularly affected the Wills and Probate sector included:
- People were not allowed to leave their homes to attend appointments; this meant that an essential form of communication was stopped. This led to issues with elderly clients who needed guidance and family support to voice their wishes.
- Most businesses reduced their office hours, some even turning to fully remote work. As a sector that relies heavily on in-person interactions with clients (such as signing documentation), some Wills and Probate teams struggled to continue working under these conditions.
- A surge in demand for Wills and related documents occurred due to fear of the circumstances created by the Coronavirus disease, and many firms struggled to keep up with this spike.
Dealing with these issues
Along with others in the profession, Cunningtons quickly adopted a number of solutions to continue offering Wills and Probate services.
Video calls and virtual meetings
Once face-to-face communication had ceased, solicitors looked to use digital software to resume conversations with clients in a safe and efficient manner.
Programs like Zoom and Microsoft Teams supplied great alternatives with their video call functions and ability to schedule online appointments to answer queries from prospective customers. This wasn’t something that was used with every meeting, however; clients have different needs, depending on their demographic, so it was not always appropriate to meet virtually.
Measures for preventing undue control
There are certain precautions that we take to ensure that our clients are not under undue influence. Elderly people are considered more vulnerable, as many rely on help from family members, and we have to be sure that they are not being coerced into changing their Wills to benefit any particular individual.
Determining whether someone is being pressured can be complex, and we do everything we can to prevent this from occurring. During the lockdown our solicitors qualified as key workers, so they were able to go to private residences to talk to clients at a safe distance, without entering their property. Using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), staying in the garden, or even conducting meetings through the windows allowed us to have face-to-face conversations without any external interference from other members of the family or friends.
Socially distanced working
Keeping apart, especially in an office environment, can be difficult so we initially decided to split the department to have some working from home and others in the office on a rota basis.
This way, everyone who needed to be in could still enter the office on certain days to continue with work that could not be completed elsewhere. After some time of working like this, we came to realise that the people who needed to be in the office regularly could situate themselves in separate rooms and so the rota was scrapped and, in turn, no office hours were lost.
Results of Covid upheaval
Despite all of the problems and difficulties that the pandemic caused, there were some good outcomes in terms of business.
Covid helped people to realise how important it is to have their affairs in order. The idea of not having a plan for early death due to the virus pushed a lot of people to write their Will and the Wills and Probate business experienced increased demand. The perils of intestacy became more obvious.
The advantages of being adaptable
By being flexible and adopting these small changes, Cunningtons’ Wills and Probate department seems to have avoided problems encountered by other law firms.
Issues such as getting signatures for estates, or having a backlog of Will applications did not affect Cunningtons since we did not have to reduce our office hours or chase clients to sign off documents.
Overall, our Wills and Probate team have handled any issues from the Covid lockdown with grace and professionalism and continued to provide our clients with the same excellent service.
If you would like to discuss any of our services, whether it be writing your Will, helping with Probate or setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney, contact our team today.