Modern medicine has meant that far more people are living longer, the care of babies and children has improved so much in recent years and thankfully the rate of infant mortality is very low here in the UK. Although, I always think about the countries where this is not the case and a child under 5 in Africa dies from malaria every two minutes (UNICEF).
One of the consequences of modern medicine is that death has become hidden and almost a failure. Have you noticed that the process is often described in the vocabulary of war, a battle to be won or lost, of success or failure; as if personal bravery and strength of spirit can somehow overcome everything? Talking about dying has become taboo, it is seen as the end and almost unacceptable.
As a result of this dreadful pandemic, suddenly our own mortality has been thrust in our faces. As a society, we are facing death in a way that we have not faced since the War and this now covers four generations. We’ve just commemorated the 75th Anniversary of VE Day and I’ve listened to the testimony of the old soldiers and they are breath-taking in every way.
This is all a bit off the point of Wills, but having been in the world of Wills and Probate for so many decades, I meditate upon these matters in a positive way. So, where does all this fit in with making a Will? I often hear clients say that they have put off making a Will for a long time, sometimes many years but after the Will is signed, they have great peace of mind and can get on with life. Making a Will involves facing one’s own mortality and it also involves thinking about our loved ones and their grief upon our death and it’s another impediment to people making Wills. Let’s also face it, some people aren’t fortunate to have people who love them and facing up to this fact cannot be easy.
There have been many more people making Wills and solicitors involved in making Wills are included in the definition of key workers. In the last 12 weeks, I have had the honour of helping many clients to make Wills, adopting new procedures to observe all the rules on social distancing. I have helped NHS doctors, people who want to get their house in order just in case they get Covid-19 and the frail elders who are close to the end of their journey on Earth.
Let me tell you about Joe (not his real name). Joe’s time here is very limited and his son phoned me and told me that dad wants to make a Will. As a matter of law, I must always take very careful instructions from the person who is making the Will, I cannot accept instructions from a third party, no matter how well meaning and genuine in their belief of what someone else wants to happen. In normal times, I would go and see Joe at home and we’d have a good chat, I want to get to know him and his dynamics- it’s always a good idea to get to know about any children who are estranged or any third party who may be maintained, perhaps a grandchild or close friend. The visit needed to be replaced with a carefully pre-arranged telephone call.
I like to chat, it’s important to get to know someone in a way that cannot be gleaned from a series of questions or an internet form. It’s crucial when I prepare Wills for a person who is frail and needs some extra tlc. I make sure that there is no rush, no pressure, I ensure that it is the person who is making the Will because they want to, not because someone else thinks it’s a good idea.
Joe and I chatted for quite a while and his wishes (instructions, in legal-speak) were expressed in a natural way, arising from our conversation rather than bald questions. Solicitors are good at questions, our brains are taught to analyse information and to test it, but such cross questioning is not at all appropriate for Joe. Joe’s son and I discussed when would be a good time for me to come and see Joe, and I called round mid-morning when he is “at his best”. I was meticulous about the Covid rules on distancing and shielding, working all the time with Joe’s son and making sure that he was happy with all the precautions I was taking. I spent time with Joe, not great behind a face mask but taking great care with Joe all the time, after all the eyes are the window of the soul and we had eye contact.
After everything had been signed, Joe’s eyes filled with tears with relief and love for his family, he had been granted the peace of mind to know that everything was in place to look after his wife of over 60 years. It was a great blessing for me to have been able to help and serve Joe in this way, and to see him at peace was wonderful.
I feel that I’ve rambled on a bit, so if you have reached the end of this – well done and thank you.
Take care and with all good wishes, Naomi