STEP launches Thought Leadership webinar series with a look at remote witnessing of wills, and asks whether it’s here to stay

Robert CaringtonLast week, STEP held the first of its Thought Leadership webinar series which examined the issue of remote witnessing of wills, and whether it would continue after COVID-19-related social distancing measures are lifted.

Emily Deane TEP, Technical Counsel at STEP, was joined on the panel by Peter Glowacki, Partner at BLG; and Anatol Dutta, Professor of private law at LMU Munich, with the event moderated by Shelley Rhoads Perry TEP, CEO Senior Advocacy Group.

The panel reviewed what measures their respective governments had taken.

In the UK the government laid a statutory instrument (SI) before parliament on 7 Sep, to come into force on 28 Sep, and while lasting until 31 Jan 2022, would be backdated to 31 Jan 2020. This SI allows someone to make a safe and valid will through remote witnessing, if no other options are available.

Inevitably this approach has led to a number of concerns: how do you assess the testator’s capacity and see if undue influence is being wielded? What if the will is lost in the post? Supposing the testator dies before the process is complete? While there has been no test case yet, STEP is urging extreme caution to members using this method, and recommends only using it as a last resort.

However the panel recognised that the current Wills Act is antiquated and that wider reform is on the horizon. It also discussed whether financial institutions would allow a will, if the need for a notary as a witness was dropped. The European Union is exploring a certificate of succession, which expands on the documents used in civil law jurisdictions which allow a bank to release funds to the beneficiary.

In Canada, different regions have implemented remote witnessing at different speeds and levels. Ontario was one of the first, releasing an order to allow the electronic execution of wills with witnesses. British Colombia has gone the furthest by allowing the video execution of wills, and has adopted legislation to make this permanent. It allows for electronic signatures and electronic wills and eliminates the need for notaries/lawyers as witnesses. It has noted such practical issues as the use of different platforms and users’ varying degrees of technological experience.

Most civil law jurisdictions allow public wills, instead of a witnessed will recognised by a notary, and some countries allow this to be done remotely. Germany, for instance, has not made many changes, as holographic wills which can be made without witnesses are already recognised.

The panel discussed the need for a notary/ lawyer to be a witness, and believe that this is likely to be retained in most jurisdictions.

The panel concluded that legislation can, and is, adapting to accept technological advances. While change is inevitable, the main challenge faced by governments will be to balance technical opportunities with robust safeguards.

Robert Carington is Policy Executive at STEP.

How’s your career health these days?

What's next?

When was the last time you had a career check-up? With client concerns, professional development and a pandemic to contend with, STEP members might quite reasonably believe that career development comes low on the priority list.

Actually, the turbulence of the times is exactly why you should be investing in your career health. Digitisation combined with new work patterns and changing client expectations are just some of the characteristics of the 21st century career landscape. Rapid and continuous change is the new reality and having the agility to cope is the best way to meet not just your own needs, but also those of your stakeholders. You won’t be doing anyone any favours if you’re feeling unfulfilled and your skills are not being fully deployed. Stop paying attention to your career and you may find that obsolescence comes all too quickly.

Prevention, as they say, is better than cure and deciding that you want to take control rather than ploughing on, head down, is a key first step. So, how to get started on a new regime? Here are some thoughts from Rosemary McLean, Valerie Rowles and Mark Anderson, course guides for the Be Bold in Your Career course:

Rosemary: ‘If thinking about your career is something you haven’t done for a while, it’s a good idea to take a temperature reading on where your career is now, where it’s heading and whether that seems like a good direction for you.’

Valerie: ‘We don’t all want the same thing from work and often this changes at different stages in life anyway. What are your personal criteria for job satisfaction? Why not generate a list right now? It’s useful to think about what’s essential for you to thrive rather than just survive.’

Mark: ‘Maybe you feel you don’t have time for this? Actually, just like taking care of your general well-being, it’s about getting into good habits and making them part of normal working life.’

Perhaps you’re broadly content with what you’re doing and just want to continue developing. Or maybe you want to change something … or even transform everything!

Career Innovation are currently offering the ‘Be Bold in Your Career’ course (usually GBP225) free to STEP members. The course will trigger ideas and galvanise you to be more proactive in your career.

  • You’ll feel confident to tell the story of your career in a way that opens up new possibilities for you.
  • You’ll map your network of contacts, tapping into their knowledge about trends on the horizon so that you can start to future-proof.
  • You can work out the kind of stretch that will shake you off a career plateau: building courage in stages is a wonderful liberation from the paralysis of inertia.
  • Or determine how to actively influence how others see you, communicating your career brand and having career conversations that lead to tangible, positive outcomes.

Be Bold in Your Career September 2020 is open for enrolment until 22 Sep. Log in to the STEP site to find out more and to book.

Rosemary McLean is a Director, and Valerie Rowles and Mark Anderson are Consultants at Career Innovation.

STEP’s upcoming Thought Leadership Series: expert perspectives on today’s big issues

Tony Pitcher TEPOne of the most exciting things set to happen in STEP this year was to be our fourth Global Congress, which would have brought together leading experts in Dublin to exchange insight and expertise with delegates from all over the world. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant the event has had to be postponed, but we are looking forward to holding it in June 2021 instead.

The agenda for next year’s Global Congress will remain focused on the big issues impacting the industry both now and in the future, with the wide variety of topics being discussed highlighting the breadth of expertise represented across STEP’s membership.

The world does not stop though, and while we look forward to Dublin we have some very pressing matters to discuss in the meantime. As Chair of the Congress panel, I was asked, alongside fellow STEP board members, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, to review what those matters might be for our industry and the short and long-term impact.

As a result, STEP has launched the Thought Leadership webinar series, kindly sponsored by Rawlinson & Hunter, bringing you some of the more topical elements of the Congress agenda over the next six months. The sessions will include a look at what the tax landscape may look like post-COVID; the risks to vulnerable people when making financial decisions; issues arising for those caught in jurisdictions during the pandemic and how we, as STEP, can rejuvenate the reputation of trusts worldwide.

We’re also delighted to welcome Professor Jason Sharman to the series. Jason will be talking about the findings of his study over lockdown, co-authored with Michael Findley and Daniel Nielson, which involved soliciting offers from 5,000 banks and 7,000 corporate service providers to test know-your-customer standards. The results will be of huge interest to our industry.

The series kicks off with the highly topical subject of video-witnessing of wills, given the changes that have happened in a number of jurisdictions during the pandemic. The panelists will not just look at what has changed but whether the changes are here to stay.

We hope you’ll join us throughout this series, as we showcase the breadth of interests of STEP’s membership and provide up-to-date knowledge on the subjects that matter to our industry. For more information, head to the STEP website.

Tony Pitcher TEP is Director at LGL Trustees and a member of the STEP Board.

Law Society issues guidance to solicitors advising on tax

Emily Deane TEPThe England and Wales Law Society has issued guidance to solicitors who advise on tax, drawing out their obligations within the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) rules and regulations.

The new guidance acknowledges the Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation (PCRT), which has been developed and published by several UK accounting and tax professional bodies, including STEP, and sets out the principles and standards of behaviour expected of all members. Compliance is mandatory for STEP members advising on UK tax matters and failure to comply may result in disciplinary action.

The Law Society explains that it has not adopted the PCRT because the obligations of the solicitors’ profession as a whole are already set out by the law and the relevant regulatory rules governing solicitors. These rules have been formulated over centuries, and they comprehensively describe the relationship between solicitors and their clients. They draw the right balance for the solicitors’ profession by combining the protection of the interests of the client, the interests of the public and the rule of law, while ensuring that access to legal advice is preserved and backed up by an independent regulator.

However, solicitors advising on tax matters are encouraged to be familiar with the content of the PCRT, which overlaps with many of the existing professional obligations on solicitors. For example, the five core principles of the PCRT (integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality and professional behaviour) are consistent with the legal and regulatory framework that already applies to solicitors.

The PCRT expressly provides that it is not to be interpreted so as to be in conflict with any other professional duties of solicitors. Solicitors that are subject to the PCRT because they are members of one of the signatory professional bodies should therefore comply with the obligations and duties required by the SRA and covered in this guidance in priority over the PCRT.

HMRC also produces standards that set out its expectations of tax advisors. HMRC published a Standard for Agents which sets out its expectations of individuals and businesses that professionally represent or advise taxpayers. Where relevant, solicitors may wish to consider the contents of this or any other HMRC standards, but those standards do not form part of a solicitor’s professional obligations.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel