Signing Your Wills During COVID-19

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By Tania Clapham, Head of Private Client Department

Throughout the country and indeed the world, some industries have slowed down or halted entirely. The legal world is no exception to this. All our departments are still operational, albeit from our homes and processes may be slightly longer than usual, but wheels are still in motion!

For many people that may have more time on their hands than before, they may well begin planning for both the short and long-term. One such area is the creation, or amending of any Wills or Powers of Attorney. Requests for new Wills has reportedly increased by over 300% since Covid-19 reached the UK, showing that people are taking their futures seriously and the requirement for legal advice and instruction is still important.
The instruction of Wills is one element, but another element of a Will is the signing of the Will. For a Will to be legally valid, the Will must be:

  • In writing
  • Signed by the person who is making the Will (known as the Testator)
  • The signing must be in the presence of  two independent witnesses, who must also sign the Will.

This sounds fairly straightforward, but there is one key factor here – the signatures must be witnessed in person. Given we are currently under social-distancing measures this can cause problems. The law states that electronic signing, video witnessing etc are not valid methods of obtaining signatures and would invalidate the Will. In Scotland, emergency guidance published by the Law Society of Scotland, permitting the witnessing of Wills by video-conference. However, this does not apply to the UK & Ireland, although the government is being lobbied to provide guidance on alternative measures given the current situation.

It is still entirely possible for a Will to be signed and witnessed during these tough times, but social distancing measures must be adhered to. For example, if you have nominated your neighbours to be your witnesses, you could organise a situation whereby each person signs the Will, whilst the others witness from a safe distance. Official requirements are for the testator/s and witnesses us to be in the presence of each other for the Will be to valid – witnesses cannot take the Will into their own home to sign, without the others being present.  Further the Testator and the witnesses must be in clear line of sight when each sign.  You are able to wear gloves whilst signing (our team always have a supply of gloves with us for such a situation))and we recommend that you use your own pen.

At Bennett Griffin, we are still Business As Usual. We are visiting clients in their (secluded) front gardens for execution and have a large supply of latex gloves in the office. We will talk through the contents of your Will by telephone with you prior to meeting with you in person to ensure that your privacy is not compromised at the point of execution.  Gema West, our Wills expert is fielding a lot of new enquiries and is “meeting” with clients via WhatsApp video, Skype, Zoom and other video platforms, so we are sure to verify the client’s identity and make sure that there is no undue influence on them and that they have capacity.

We take “know your client” very seriously and always put this at the top of our priority list – including not wanting to facilitate any risk of transmitting this horrendous virus.

If you would like to discuss your options, our Private Client Team are here to guide you through the various routes available – Simply call the team on 01903 229999, visit the team page to contact the relevant department or complete the form below.

Please note that this update is not intended to be exhaustive or be a substitute for legal advice. The application of the law in this area will often depend upon the specific facts and you are advised to seek specific advice on any given scenario.