Wills: how to get around the witness signature during social distancing

As the demand for will-writing services increases during the Covid-19 pandemic, so too has the demand for a much-needed review into the process - and whether or not it needs to be updated.

In order for a will to be legally valid in the UK, it must be signed by two witnesses. In doing so, they must also be physically present - as opposed to digitally signing a document via a digital call, for example.

Since social distancing came into effect, this need to be physically present is causing some issues. We’re coming across more and more stories of how people are passing documents through a window or precariously leaning on car bonnets as documents are secured to the windscreen by a single wiper blade as a way of achieving the signatures required.

With the risk of spreading the virus through human contact, or even sharing pens and passing the documents themselves, it’s extremely difficult at the moment to carry out this necessary task, even when social distancing is adhered to. People are finding novel ways to get around this rule, however, it comes into question why these rules still exist.

The rules date back to the start of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1837 when record keeping was less efficient due to the lack of basic literacy - and technology of course. By stating that someone had physically been in the presence of another when signing a will, it would be difficult to prove otherwise and was therefore considered an acceptable form of validity.

Whether we agree with the reasoning behind this rule today or not is irrelevant. Without those two witness signatures, the will would almost certainly be invalid.

The Law Society has called for the Ministry of Justice to review ways in which wills are validated, particularly in light of the recent Coronavirus pandemic. The Society has requested that video conferencing is considered as part of the process and the Chair of Wills and Equity Committee, Ian Bond, has pointed out that we could learn a thing or two from Australian techniques, where judges are given the ability to investigate and show some flexibility in allowing wills to stand. At the moment, however, the Ministry of Justice has stated that there are no plans to change the rules at present.

If you would like to go ahead with a change to your will, then we can help. Whilst the legislation regarding witness signatures is still upheld, we can advise you on how you can safely obtain your witness signatures, or offer any other advice you may need about completing your will at this time. Contact us to see how we can help.


Amber O’Connor

Amber O’Connor

Partner

Tel: +44 (0) 1306 502290

Office: Dorking

Email: a.oconnor@downslaw.co.uk