Covid-19 has caused our personal and professional lives to change suddenly, almost beyond recognition. With the country adhering to the Government’s social distancing measures, our private client department has reflected on how this impacts one of their principal areas of work: Wills. Our Q&A article offers a guide to Wills generally and tips for signing Wills in the current climate.
"How easy is it to make a Will and are there any formalities?"
For a Will to be valid it must:-
- be in writing;
- be signed by the person making the Will (the testator) or by another person at their direction if they cannot sign in the presence of two independent witnesses; and
- these two independent witnesses must also sign the Will in the presence of the testator and in the presence of each other.
In normal circumstances, these conditions are simple to adhere to and point 1 is still easy to satisfy. However, with social distancing measures in force, points 2 and 3 need a little further thought.
"I have my Will ready to sign, but due to social distancing, my only interaction is with my family. Can they be witnesses?"
Witnesses must be independent to the testator. This means that immediate family, particularly if they are benefiting under the Will, cannot be witnesses.
"So, who can act as my witnesses?"
Perhaps your neighbours or other friends in the local community could help.
"How can I get my Will witnessed while also following social distancing guidelines?"
It is important that you adhere to strict social distancing measures. It may, therefore, now be necessary for your Will signing to take place outside so that it is possible to keep a safe distance apart.
"I am self-isolating. Can I sign the Will and then show it to the witnesses whilst they stand outside?"
In such a scenario, your witnesses should watch you sign your Will through a closed window. It is important that your witnesses see your Will and see you sign it. Your witnesses must also ensure that they adhere to social distancing between themselves.
If you do not have convenient external windows due to living in a block of flats and not on the ground floor, you may need to go to your foyer so that you can ensure social distancing requirements are met.
"If we follow the above advice how do we then physically arrange for the will to be passed to each other?"
It would then be possible to pass the Will to the witnesses through the window or your letter box. To ensure your Will is not damaged, place it in an envelope when you pass it between each other. In the self-isolation scenario, it may be sensible for all parties to wear gloves so as to reduce any contact with any documents.
"I have been unable to find anyone who is able or prepared to act as a witness?"
If you do not know anyone who can be your witnesses in these difficult times, our private client team are classed as ‘key workers’ under the Government’s latest guidelines and would be happy to assist you with witnessing your Will if needed.
"Do the witnesses need to read the Will?"
"I have already signed the Will before the witnesses were present. Is the Will now invalid?"
Yes. You must sign your Will with your witnesses present so that they see you sign it.
"I have now executed my Will and my witnesses have witnessed it. What should I do now?"
We would suggest that a short note is prepared setting out the circumstances of the witnessing so that it is clear that the Will has been validly executed. If required, one of our private client solicitors would be happy to attend via video conference to see the signing and witnessing take place and prepare a note for your Will file.
"Where do I store the Will?"
Your Will needs to be kept in good condition and stored in a safe place. We recommend placing the Will in an envelope in a safe. Do not pin or attach anything to your Will. If you are an existing client, please return your Will to us and we will ensure that it is kept in our designated fire proof cabinet for safe keeping.
Emergency Legislation during the Covid-19 era
Rules for the proper execution of Wills may be relaxed during these difficult times. The Law Society and the Society for Trust and Estate Practitioners have been in talks with the Ministry of Justice to try to implement measures to facilitate Will signing in the current climate. We may see the need for two witnesses be reduced to one or for video witnessing to be introduced. Any updates will be published on our webpage as and when they are introduced.
GET IN TOUCH
It is business as usual at EMW with our Private Client colleagues, able to offer video conferences or traditional phone calls to discuss your personal circumstances and assist you with the execution of your Will where required.
If your business needs legal support with any issues arising from COVID-19, please get in touch with Oliver Kent.
All information in this document is accurate at the time of writing. It is meant for general information only and is not legal advice.