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Witnessing a Will and Social Distancing – what’s the answer?

Jun 2, 2020

With the UK now embarking on phase 2 of ‘lockdown’, what does this mean for the vexed question of witnessing Wills? Strict social distancing is still in place. So, how do you arrange for your Will to be signed by independent witnesses?

No more complacency with Will writing

Understandably, The Coronavirus pandemic has seen a dramatic rise in the demand for Wills. Some firms have witnessed an increase of up to 70%. People feel vulnerable. The pandemic has brought the importance of writing a Will into sharp focus.
For centuries, getting your Will signed by an independent witness has formed a key part of the process. But how do we apply these rules when we’re not allowed within 2 metres of anyone from outside our household? Can we assume that, as a consequence of the pandemic, the law is allowing an easing of the rules?


Two witnesses required at the same place and the same time

As things currently stand (and have stood since the Wills Act 1837), no Will is valid unless two witnesses are physically present to sign it - at the same place and at the same time. The virus lockdown and social distancing are making this a huge practical challenge. Of course, the fact that these witnesses can’t be beneficiaries from the will often rules out people living in the same household.

Lockdown has resulted in extraordinary examples of creativity. The BBC reports instances where Wills have been signed on car windscreens – the important legal documentation being held in place by windscreen wipers!

So – what happens now?

The Law Society is in talks with the Government to find 'common sense' ways to loosen rules.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said recently -

'While there are no current plans to change the law, we will consider all options and keep this under review during the Covid-19 pandemic.'

Not an especially helpful response if you need to have your Will signed urgently.

The Law Society is currently talking to the Ministry of Justice about the following options on witnesses:

- Allowing only one witness to a Will instead of two
- Permitting recorded remote recordings wills being signed vis Skype, Zoom etc

The trouble is – both of these options could be open to fraud.

Any other options?

With a little imagination, it’s still possible to arrange for a Will to be legally signed by two witnesses, while staying within the social distancing regulations. Here are a few -

- Sitting at a park bench with witnesses at adjacent benches, and rotating so each approaches the park bench individually to witness the will.

- Arranging for neighbours to witness and sign the will from the safety of their own gardens.

- Standing at your doorstep whilst your witnesses stand on the pavement.

- Keeping on opposite sides of the same room.

Of course, each of these options will require great care to minimise the risk of virus transmission. Hands will have to be washed and face masks and surgical gloves worn. For this to be successful, you’ll need to plan the signing process with great care. As ever, you need to …

… ask the expert

For now, the minimum you should do is to simply go ahead and make the best record of your wishes in a will as you possibly can, and then go back and sort it out after the crisis.

But, of course, there’s no substitute for asking an expert. Give yourself peace of mind. Make sure you get your Will right. Talk to an expert. Get in touch. We’ll answer all your questions and make sure that your wishes are carried out correctly and legally.

Contact Tim Mullock on 01234 713021.
Or email Tim.Mullock@AdeptAssetSolutions.co.uk

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