According to the BBC, Solicitors are reporting a "massive rise" in demand for wills from people worried about coronavirus. Over the last few weeks we’ve also experienced a significant increase in people looking for our help with making their will or completing one that’s already in progress. However, social distancing rules have presented people with issues getting wills witnessed by people who aren’t beneficiaries, with people in England having to come up with their own creative solutions like signing on car bonnets and witnesses watching through windows and patio doors.
As a result, in some parts of the UK, the law is evolving quickly to adapt the rules on the witnessing of wills in a bid to help people get them in place as easily and quickly as possible. Scotland has introduced temporary measures, allowing the signing of wills to be witnessed via video calls rather than in person. It is hoped that the rest of the UK follows suit and comes up with pragmatic solutions that balance formality and flexibility at what is a difficult and uncertain time for many people.
Let’s take a look at how witnessing of Wills has changed during lockdown:
• One witness must sign the final page of the Will.
• They cannot be an executor, trustee or potential beneficiary.
• They must be over 16 and have capacity themselves.
• The witness does not need to know the content of the document.
If it’s not possible for a witness to be in the room when the will is signed, we can witness through skype/video conferencing.
England and Wales
Usual Rules: Wills need to have two witnesses who sign the last page of the document. Again, they must be over 18, have capacity and not be an Executor, Trustee or Beneficiary. Also, they must not be the partner of or married to an Executor, Trustee or beneficiary.
At present, there is not a pragmatic solution for witnessing Wills in lockdown but we hope there will be an update shortly. The Law Society of England & Wales are lobbying the Ministry of Justice for emergency laws but these are not in place yet. Therefore, in the meantime, we have to rely on some very old case law to give the clients the best possible solution.
• If the individual has two people in their home (or regular visitors to their home, such as carers) who would qualify as witnesses under the usual rules above, then they can sign their Will in the presence of those people and they can sign as witnesses. Reasonable precautions should of course be taken to minimise the risk of any virus transmission given that they will all be touching the same document. Witnesses could wear gloves for example.
• If the individual does not have access to two people in their home that could act as witnesses, then neighbours could carry out this role instead provided they qualify as witnesses. Ideally, they need to be neighbours who live together and so do not have to practice social distancing with each other. They need be able to be together at the client’s window/door and should watch the client sign whilst maintaining social distancing. In either case, once the Will has been signed, it should be left for the witnesses to collect and then sign with the individual watching, again taking precautions to avoid transmission perhaps by wearing gloves
Who needs a will?
It’s important that all of us, not just those that are elderly, vulnerable or ill, have a will in place. This is about taking control, knowing you have done what you can to make sure the people you want will receive as much of your estate as possible and that you’ve made things as easy as possible for your loved ones at an otherwise difficult time.
For anyone who is keen to take control in these uncertain times by either putting a will in place or replacing one they know no longer reflects their wishes and circumstances, we can help you and can do that very quickly if the situation is urgent. You can contact our dedicated team here.
You can speak to your 1825 Financial Planner if you’d like to find out more about certifying wills during the Coronavirus.