Coronavirus: How can I make a Will whilst observing social distancing?
At Bowcock Cuerden we understand that our clients are keen to ensure that all of their affairs are in order and we are continuing to take instructions and draft Wills during the current pandemic. However, we appreciate that the formal requirements to sign the Will in front of two independent witnesses can now be difficult.
In order for a Will to be valid Section 9 of the Wills Act 1837 requires that it is:-
• In writing
• Signed by either:
1. The person making the Will (the “Testator”) or
2. Another person in the presence of the Testator and at the direction of the Testator.
• Signed in the presence of two independent witnesses who :-
1. Are present at the same time (i.e. they are both present when the Will is signed and see it being signed) and
2. Each witness signs the Will in the presence of the Testator.
It is best to avoid members of the family witnessing the Will as having family witnesses may raise the question of whether the Testator was unduly influenced into signing the Will. In addition if a witness is also a beneficiary (or the spouse or civil partner of a beneficiary) then that witness cannot benefit under the Will.
Practical Options in the presence circumstances for maintaining social distancing
1. The parties could stand far apart in the same room with each signatory stepping forward to sign the Will and then stepping back before the next person steps forward to sign.
2. The Testator could sign by their window with both witnesses watching from the other side of the glass. The Will could then be passed through a letter box to be signed and returned by the witnesses.
3. The signing could take place in the garden using a table with each signatory stepping forward in turn to sign as in 1.
It is important to follow Government guidelines regarding social distancing, particularly if anyone involved is elderly or vulnerable and each party should consider wearing disposable gloves or using a different pen to sign.
It is a good idea to a make a careful note of how the Will was signed and witnessed with full details of the witnesses and to keep this with the signed document.
Although the Law Society and Ministry of Justice are in discussions about whether the requirements for executing Wills can be relaxed in light of the current circumstances, it doesn’t appear that this is likely in the immediate future.
If you have any queries about this article or any other questions regarding Wills, please contact one of our Private Client Team, Juliet Hibbert or Karen Hyde.