A will is an important document as it sets out the wishes of the person making the will (the testator). It specifies how the testator's assets are to be distributed on their death and appoints the executor/s, which are the person/s charged with administering the estate once the testator has died.
To be valid, a will must be properly signed. Generally, this means that the testator must sign the will in the presence of two independent witnesses who must also sign in the presence of the testator. In essence this means that all three people must be in the room and remain in the room until all of the signatures are made.
In a period of social distancing during which people should remain at least 2m apart, this can create practical difficulties when signing a will. The purpose of social distancing is to try to ensure that people who may be infected by the Covid-19 virus do not pass it on to others.
This is an even more acute problem when people in at-risk groups want to sign their will; many of these have been advised to self-isolate for up to 12 weeks meaning that they should avoid contact with anyone if possible.
This has presented special challenges for law firms preparing wills and arranging for their signature. The Ministry of Justice has made it clear that it will not relax the strict requirements regarding will signing during the Covid-19 crisis. This is particularly to avoid the possibility of fraud.
There has been a significant upturn in the number of people wanting to make a will at this time. We have repeated many times in these newsletters of the importance of so doing. Anyone wanting to make a will at this time is advised to take specialist advice to minimise the risk of the will being declared invalid at a later date. Many firms dealing with wills have come up with innovative ways to maintain social distancing whilst a will is being signed. The Law Society also recommends that:
- clients video a recording of the signing of the will
- the lawyer keeps a good file note of how the will was signed
- the lawyer discusses with the client the possibility of re-signing the will once the social distancing requirements are met
To discuss their or any other will related matter, contact us.