Why are people worrying about how to sign a will during the COVID-19 lockdown?
In order for a will to be valid in England and Wales, a number of criteria must be met. One of the requirements relates to the signing and witness of the document, and without the correct procedure being undertaken – testator’s risk their wishes not being carried out.
The Wills Act requires that the will maker’s “signature is made or acknowledged by the testator in the presence of two or more witnesses present at the same time”.
With social distancing to avoid infection and a lockdown in force across the United Kingdom, it is very hard for people wanting to make will to get appropriate legal advice and comply with the execution formalities. Witnesses are required to be two independent adults, and so cannot be people who will benefit under the will or their spouses. When we are restricted to only interacting with people in our own household – the sourcing of independent witnesses can be extremely difficult.
One way that has been proposed to work around social distancing while having wills witnessed is to have the will maker sign the will while the two witnesses stand outside a window watching. All three need to be present at the same time and sign the document then. So having the testator sign and then pass the document through the letterbox for the witnesses to sign in view of the testator and then returned back is one workaround. This approach is allowed for in the case law as an interesting case determined that signing and viewing witnessing to a will through a carriage window was valid. Extreme care to comply with the lockdown obligations, social distancing and hygiene must also be considered when attempting to make a will.
Having the document itself prepared appropriately is just as important as ever. Legal advice on drafting the document to cover your wishes can give your loved ones protection in the long term. Many solicitors are taking phone and video instructions and arranging for documents to be posted or sent in other ways for signing with clear instructions on the steps to take to ensure your will is valid. Specific wording in the will such as the attestation clause can have great importance after you pass away, and so getting the right advice is paramount.
Failing to get the necessary legal input and comply with the formal requirements of execution could mean that the effort of preparing and signing the will is wasted. The result of that could be that an earlier will is still in effect, or your estate could be distributed under the rules of intestacy without you getting to decide how to administer your estate.
If you wish to seek advice on preparing your will properly you can speak to a member of our private client team, and if you have concerns over potential disputes of your will or the validity of the will of someone, our contentious probate team are able to help.
*Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*