Witnessing a will in the current pandemic

2nd April 2020

With the current Coronavirus pandemic it perhaps comes as no surprise that this has prompted many people to put a will in place, either for the first time, or perhaps to replace an existing but out of date will.

There are various requirements that must be met to make a valid will, which include:

  • It must be in writing
  • It must be signed by the person making the will in the presence of two witnesses
  • It must be signed by those two witnesses in the presence of the person making the will after it has been signed.

Whilst in most cases it will be relatively easy to provide instructions for the contents of your will, whilst maintaining the social distancing measures introduced as a result of Covid-19 (for example by telephone, Facetime Skype or similar), it remains a formality that the will must still be witnessed by two independent people (not named, or related to those named in your will).  In the current climate those witnesses are likely to need to be your neighbours.  

Difficulties will be faced if the person making the will is in isolation and unable to have independent witnesses in the same room.

There have been discussions between the Law Society and the Ministry of Justice with a view to relaxing the rules, and some of the options being considered are:

  • An Australian style approach giving Judges more flexibility on what constitutes a will,
  • A European style where the person making the will writes it by hand without witnesses, and
  • A process where wills could be witnessed electronically

Any relaxation of the rules will bring with it risks, such as undue influence or fraud and it therefore remains to be seen whether any such changes are temporary, or are brought in as a measure to modernise the area of will writing.

If you have any concerns about this issue, please contact a member of our probate team.

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