Under UK law, a will maker must sign the will in the presence of two witnesses, over the age of 18, who then must also sign the will to state they have witnessed the event. The two witnesses to the signing must also not be people who will benefit under the will or a spouse of someone who will.
These requirements are causing problems in the current climate. Many offices remain closed or are working remotely. Social distancing means it is difficult to have two people who are not in your household who will not benefit from the will, come together to sign a document.
We may be able to take instructions over the phone and email, writing up a valid will, but without the witness signatures, done in your presence, it will all be pointless.
There have been calls over the past few weeks for the requirements for witnesses to be eased, however as yet there have been no changes. Therefore, if you have either had your will drafted professionally (which is always recommended) or you had written one yourself, currently the best advice to have it validly witnessed is:
- Ask at least two people, over the age of 18, who are not going to receive a benefit under the will, including the spouses or close family of anyone named in the will.
- Print or write out the will and have it ready to be signed – the witnesses do not need to know what has been written, they just need to witness you signing it.
- Arrange to meet outside but remain socially distant
- All use your own pens and preferably gloves for touching the paper
- Once you have signed in front of the witnesses, step away from the will and allow each witness to sign it individually, again socially distancing
- Once it has been signed, ensure you keep it safe and let your personal representatives know where to find it. If you have had it drafted professionally, return it to your will writer so they can check that it has been witnessed correctly. Some professionals may allow you to do this by email, with you keeping the original until you are able to return it
Until the laws are relax or changed, regarding how wills are to witnessed, and despite news articles about living wills or solicitors witnessing wills via Whatsapp, the unfortunate truth is you are still required to have the signatures of two witnesses, in person.