The current coronavirus pandemic has raised a number of issues relating to the signing and execution of Wills. While at the time of publication there has been no formal guidance issued, Head of Bray & Bray’s Wills, Trusts and Probate team, Andrew Hitchon, provides some suggestions on how to ensure you remain safe when dealing with Will-related issues such as signing or witnessing a Will.
Witnessing a Will: potential problems ahead
Making a Will is one of the most important things you can do. It provides you will the peace of mind of knowing exactly how your money, property and possessions will be dealt with after your death. However, there are a number of important steps to follow when creating a Will to ensure that is considered valid. For instance, when you sign your Will, there must be two independent witnesses present at the same time and both of these witnesses must physically see you signing/executing the Will.
But because a number of people are self-isolating or practicing social distancing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, executing a Will in the presence of two independent witnesses may now pose an unexpected problem.
Self-isolation shouldn’t prevent you from signing a Will, or be a cause for a delay in proceedings. There are a couple of potential alternatives that might be worth considering as solutions to the issue being raised:
- Signing through a glass window or doorway
Section 9 of the Wills Act 1837 states that in the signing and attestation of a Will, a signature must be made by the testator in the presence of two or more witnesses present at the same. Providing both witnesses can see the testator and the Will as it is signed, there should be no reason why the Will cannot be witnessed through a glass window or doorway, and the signed Will then pushed through a letterbox for the witnesses to also sign.
- Signing ‘at your direction’
The same section of the Wills Act also states that a Will may be signed by another person in the testator’s presence and by their direction. This is known simply as ‘signing at your direction’. It is more commonly used when a person has mobility issues, for instance if they are unable to hold a pen. Two witnesses are required as before, along with one other person to sign on your behalf. The process could also be done through a window if necessary.
This option could potentially be used by anyone and may be particularly valuable given the present circumstances and the importance of keeping people safe.
It’s worth noting that extreme care needs to be taken to ensure that any signature by another person on the testator’s behalf will be deemed valid. To be considered lawful, your Will must state that it was signed ‘at your direction’ and contain specific wording to cover this scenario.
By far the best precaution, especially when time is limited, is to arrange for a solicitor to attend to prepare the Will and oversee the signing and witnessing. A solicitor can help put extra safeguards in place in unusual circumstances and provide appropriate advice.
Get in touch
Further guidance is expected to be issued by The Law Society on this, as well as for other issues that may come in to play during these unprecedented times. We will of course keep you informed of any developments.
If you have any concerns about signing or witnessing a Will in the current, uncertain climate, the Bray & Bray team is more than happy to provide advice and support. All of our offices are currently open, and we are happy to have meetings via telephone or videocall. Please feel free to get in touch.