With the BBC and almost every journalist in the world reporting on the number of deaths arising from the coronavirus (COVID-19) on a daily basis, it is not surprising that our mortality is on our minds.
The wills and probate team at Hughes Solicitors in Heathfield has seen a surge in enquiries from clients wanting to make a will or update an existing will, and one of the key questions has been ‘how do we get it witnessed?’
Hilary Hughes, head of the private client team and a founding partner, explains that ‘For a will to be valid, certain criteria need to be fulfilled’:
- it needs to be in writing – it can be handwritten or typed;
- it must be signed by the person making the will (known as the testator) in the presence of two independent witnesses – the witnesses cannot be beneficiaries and they must both be present at the same time; and
- each witness must sign the will in the presence of the testator.
Hilary emphasises that ‘There are good reasons for these precautions, as they protect a vulnerable person from being coerced into signing a will under duress and they provide a safeguard in the event that the validity of a will is challenged after someone has died.’
The rules on social isolation are indeed making it more difficult to get two appropriate witnesses together with a testator. However, with the British spirit of ‘keep calm and carry on’ prevailing, it is not surprising that there have been reports of some novel solutions being put forward such as;
- depending on the proximity of neighbours, some people have been able to have their wills witnessed while signing in their porch or in their garden;
- another alternative suggestion has been signing in a public space during daily exercise, such as a park or a church porch where people stand at an appropriate distance and approach a single bench or seat to sign the will one at a time;
Hilary adds a note of caution ‘Whilst it is encouraging to see more people wanting to make wills and put their affairs in order, there is still a high degree of risk around the signing of wills and the potential for individuals to get the formalities wrong. Ideally the signing process should still be overseen by a solicitor or other legal professional and we would encourage people to speak to us about their specific circumstances’
Meanwhile, the Law Society has been in contact with the Ministry of Justice to explore whether the signing and witnessing of wills and power of attorneys could be made easier, with suggestions including:
- electronic signatures; or
- signatures witnessed on video;
The Guardian Newspaper reported a response from the Ministry of Justice expressing concern that ‘This is a delicate area of law and we must absolutely continue to protect the elderly and vulnerable against potential fraud’, while promising to keep this under review.
How we can help
If you wish to make a new will or amend a will, please give us a call to discuss your circumstances and we can propose some practical suggestions for you.
Please call our private client team in Heathfield, East Sussex on 01435 890 104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since the date this article was published.