The current COVID-19 crisis has brought with it many problems, and quite understandably has led to lots of people being conscious of ensuring that their affairs are in order. News would suggest that demand for Wills has increased by 30% during the epidemic, however signing of Wills during isolation brings with it new challenges, which may prevent people being able to ensure that a valid Will is in place.
In accordance with the Wills Act, to be valid a Will must be signed in the presence of two independent witnesses i.e. people who are not related to you, are not beneficiaries of the Will, and are not related to any beneficiary. Those two witnesses must also be present together, and you must sign in their presence and they then must sign in your presence.
The independence of the witnesses is crucial - if one or both of them were a beneficiary of the Will or related to such a person, they could lose any inheritance left to them.
What about electronic signatures? Unfortunately these are not accepted on Wills
What about witnessing by video link? Again, sadly the Wills system has not kept pace with the modern world, and video witnessing is not accepted in terms of creating a valid Will. The witnesses need to be physically present (although talks are afoot about this possibly changing in the future, any legislation is likely to be too late for those who wish to execute a valid Will now, in the midst of the crisis)
What are the options? Malcolm C Foy & Co are still accepting instructions for Wills and can prepare an expertly drawn up Will after speaking with you about your needs via telephone/video call/email. We can send Wills to you for you, and ask that you make arrangement for signing, in the presence of two independent witnesses. As per Government guidance, the witnesses will need to maintain a safe distance.
How can someone witness my signature at a safe distance? Current advice allows exercise once a day – you could arrange to go for a walk at the same time as two friends and agree on a “signing area” Once you were all in the area, you could sign the Will, making sure that the witnesses can see you do this, and then leave the Will on the ground and walk away to a safe distance. Your friends could then approach and sign as witnesses (which you could see from the safe distance you were away). The friends could then leave, and you could collect the Will which they had left where they had signed it.
An alternative would be to ask neighbours attend and stand at your window to see you sign. You could then post the Will through the letterbox or window and ask them to sign from outside (where you can see them do this) and then post the Will back through the letterbox or window to you. Otherwise, you might ask neighbours to witness “over the garden fence”, by standing in their own garden and watching you sign in your garden, and then you placing the Will on the fence and standing back, and the neighbours collecting from the fence, signing, and then placing the Will back on the fence, for you to collect once they have gone back to a safe distance.
In respect of any Wills that are signed in this way and which we have prepared, Malcolm C Foy & Co will check the Wills on return to ensure that they have been signed and witnessed in the correct places (full signing instructions will be provided), and would also offer a follow up appointment when social distancing is no longer required, to resign the Will in our offices, for our clients peace of mind.
If you would like to talk to us about putting a Will in place, please call our Sarah Thiede on 01302 340005 or email email@example.com