How To Execute A Will In Covid-19 Lockdown11th Sep 2020
Video-Witnessing Of Wills
Video-witnessing of wills will come into force on September 28 2020. An amendment to the Wills Act 1837 is allowing wills to be witnessed by ‘videoconferencing or other visual transmission’.
This will make apps such Zoom or Skype a legally binding way of witnessing a will. The new rules will be backdated to January 31 2020 (a few days after the UK’s first coronavirus cases were confirmed).
Is Video-Witnessing Of Wills A Good Idea?
We hold a lot of client meetings on Zoom. So you’d assume that we’d be keen to capitalise on this new measure. Right?
Not quite. Yes, we’re usually keen on technology that makes life easier for our clients (provided that it is legally safe). But we have a few reservations about video-witnessing of wills…
For a start, the Lord Chancellor’s new statutory instrument will apply only until January 31 2022.
Two years might sound like a long time. But a will is (by definition) an end-of-life document. And hopefully you’re going to have a very long and happy life.
So it could be decades before you pass on and your will is probated. By that time, Covid-19 (and the temporary video-conferencing measure) could be just a distant memory.
There are other risks:
- What if a document goes missing in the post during the remote witnessing process?
- What happens if you die before the physical signatures can be added?
- What if a witness changes their mind and declines to sign as a witness after the video conference?
For these reasons, we have advised our lawyers not to consider remote witnessing. They will be using other Covid-safe methods. More about these further on – but there’s something you need to read first…
Rise In Contested Wills
We’d like to think that our caution is well founded. More wills across the country are being contested – many for reasons similar to those listed above.
So wills need to be more watertight than ever these days. Especially with all the financial worries that the coronavirus pandemic has brought. Estates of all sizes make a tempting target for chancers short of cash.
And DIY will packs (and template wills downloaded from the internet) have made the problem worse because of all the legal pitfalls.
Yet even before Covid-19 there had been a significant rise in disputed wills. An increase in second marriages has created more cases of children and step-children arguing over who gets what.
That is because children from a first marriage can suddenly find themselves disinherited because remarriage renders any previous wills null and void.
An example like this shows why it’s important to review your will every few years.
Executing Your Will
You will need to sign your will in the presence of two witnesses. They must be independent – not family members or anyone mentioned in the will.
You should personally sign and date the will while you’re all together. Your witnesses should also sign the document, print their names and include their addresses and occupations on the document.
Your witnesses do not need to see the contents of your will. They just need to witness that they saw you sign it.
Social Distancing When Signing Your Will
For social distancing purposes, it’s legally acceptable for your witnesses to watch you through a window during the signing process. As long as they see you sign the will (then sign the document themselves), they are able to witness your signature.
They could wait outside your house if you are not comfortable about them entering your home. You could pass the document out to them so they can complete their witness formalities.
We are happy to act as witnesses. Some clients sign their wills in our car park.
You can sign the will in your car with the witnesses watching through the window. The witnesses will then step back to a safe distance so you can pass the will out through a narrowly opened car door or window.
What Happens Next
Once you have executed your will, you must not attach staples or anything else to it. Doing so can lead to future issues that could invalidate your will.
It is important to store your will somewhere safe (ideally fireproof) and let your executors know where it is. We are happy to store your will for you for free.
Find Out More
Contact Coles Miller wills solicitor Clare Bland for more information about how to make or review your will in a Covid-safe way.