Signing of Wills and Codicils whilst observing social distancing and self-isolation
The unfortunate reality during the Covid-19 pandemic is that many law firms are experiencing a greater number of enquiries and instructions relating to Wills. Whether that’s existing clients wishing to make sure their current Will is up to date or new clients who feel compelled to ensure their wishes are now legally documented. Whatever the reason, we are being asked (quite understandably) how someone can execute a Will when we are having to self-isolate and socially distance ourselves. Here, we try and help answer that.
To be valid, a Will must be signed by the Testator ‘in the presence’ of two witnesses at the same time, and those witnesses must also sign the Will in the presence of the Testator. ‘Presence’ in this context means the witness must have a direct line of sight to see the Testator sign, but they do not need to be able to see exactly what is written. They need only be able to see the act of signing. This means that they can keep their distance and still be a valid witness.
The same applies to the witnesses’ signatures; they need not sign in the presence of each other, but the Testator must have a clear line of sight to be able to witness them sign the document.
It is also possible for someone else to sign the Will on behalf of the Testator, at his direction. This may be one of the attesting witnesses, and they can either write the Testator’s name or sign their own name on the Testator’s behalf. If this is done, there should be a clear record of this being done, and preferably with video evidence. This means it should be possible for someone to execute a Will without coming into direct contact with any of the witnesses or (in extreme cases) even with the paper on which the Will is written.
The question of whether documents can be ‘witnessed’ via videolink or Skype is currently being discussed, but at the moment the advice must be that such a Will would not be valid.
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Members of our Private Client team are on hand to advise on any issues relating to Wills, Probate, Trusts, Powers of Attorney and Deputyship at this time. Please telephone 01892 526344 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.