How to make or amend a will during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown – the two witness rule.
To make a valid will in England & Wales, a testator must have their signature witnessed by two independent witnesses. But with the current social distancing measures and self-isolation to contend with, how can we ensure wills are valid? At Bond Adams, we explain how to make or amend a will during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown.
Before we can understand how the will-making process in England and Wales is being affected during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) ‘lockdown’, first it’s important to understand that a will must be executed in accordance with Section 9 of the Wills Act 1837. This law sets out that a will is only valid if the following is in place:
- It is in writing and signed by the testator, or by some other person in his/her presence and by his/her direction
- it appears that the testator intended by his/her signature to give effect to the will
- the signature is made or acknowledged by the testator in the presence of two or more witnesses present at the time
- each witness either:
- attests and signs the will
- or acknowledges his/her signature in the presence of the testator (but not normally in the presence of any other witnesses), but no form of attestation shall be necessary
Has Coronavirus (COVID-19) affected making a will in England and Wales? The importance of making a will?
Making a will is even more important. Sadly, a number of people have died and family have advised that they wished their family member had made a will.
Also, the families have a number of people have said that as people are ill, they are considering putting in place powers of attorney.
A number of questions arise as to how will you sign a will if you are not leaving your home.
There has been a lot of speculation in the legal press as to whether wills can be signed and witnessed remotely, For example through Skype or video conferencing, and this approach has been taken in Scotland. However, the consensus appears to be that this isn’t possible in England & Wales given the strict requirements in Section 9 of the Wills Act 1837.
The Law Society and the Ministry of Justice are currently discussing relaxing the formal requirements, but, until we receive further guidance or legislative reform, ensuring the validity of wills is proving a challenge for private client practitioners, especially at a time when here at Bond Adams, the number of enquiries for wills has been increasing.
How you can make a will in England and Wales during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown?
Using previous cases, we are confident in saying that witnessing through windows will be enough to meet the legal requirements. The same can be said for all parties involved being in an open area while observing the recommended social distancing.
In circumstances where wills cannot be properly witnessed at all, for whatever reason, then other options for testators include:
- making lifetime gifts although if you don’t survive 7 years although inheritance tax still applies if your estate is worth over a certain amount.
- preparing a letter of wishes which, whilst not legally binding, might be expected to be followed by the family after death and/or risking the remote witnessing of a will via technology
For more information on wills, probate or Trusts, Bond Adams Solicitors cover nationwide from our Leicestershire base. To find out more contact us today to find out how we can guide you through the will-writing process.