Can I still make a will during the coronavirus lockdown period?
It has recently been estimated that the number of enquiries coming into law firms relating to the preparation of wills has increased by around 30% during this challenging time (the Telegraph).
It’s clear that people are concerned about the risks posed to them by the coronavirus outbreak and, given their vulnerability or age, they want to get their affairs in order and have one less thing to worry about.
Given the current coronavirus pandemic, The Law Society are in discussions with The Ministry of Justice to urgently look at bringing in law legislation that will change the requirements about the witnessing of wills. Although the full content of this legislation is currently unknown, further updates are expected to be announced shortly.
What’s the current position?
Following Monday’s ‘lockdown’ announcement with strict instructions for social distancing and a 12 week period of self-isolation for the extremely vulnerable, it’s important that consideration is given to how these highly important documents will be signed correctly in order to ensure they are legally valid and people’s wishes are carried out.
Currently, legislation dealing with the correct signing of a will dates back almost 200 years to the Wills Act 1837. For the will to be an effective will, it needs to be signed by the individual, and this signature needs to be witnessed by at least two independent witnesses who are present at the same time – both with each other and the individual signing the will.
How do I do this and still comply with the current social distancing measures?
Complying with the current measures in order to ensure a will is signed correctly may mean that the individual, as well as the witnesses, end up violating the current government-enforced three-week lockdown, unless special measures are taken.
During this period, it’s likely to be impossible to obtain the help from two individuals as witnesses, as neither they nor the individual, can leave the house for the purposes of executing a document.
However, someone wanting to make a will could request that two neighbours (both from the same household as each other) witness their will over the garden fence. Neither the individual nor the neighbours should leave their respective gardens and they should all remain a minimum of two metres away from each other at all times.
The will should be placed by the individual somewhere where both they, and the witnesses, can access it to sign it. All parties should wear gloves and use their own pens and the gloves should be disposed of once the exercise is completed. The witnesses must be able to see the witness sign the will and they too must sign the document in sight of the individual.
Once the will has been signed it is advisable that a copy of the signed will is taken and either scanned to an electronic storage system or sent to your solicitor. If this isn’t possible to do during this lockdown period, a photograph should be taken of each page so that there is a copy of the document should the original be misplaced while in the individual’s possession.
Can I ask one of my family members to witness signing the will instead?
Individuals should not be tempted to ask their family or anyone who stands to benefit under the will (or anyone married to someone who stands to benefit) to be a witness. Doing this may inadvertently invalidate any gift to that person you’ve included in your will. Depending on the extent of their entitlement, may undermine the entire purpose of putting the will in place at all.
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