Arranging for the distribution of your estate to ensure that your loved ones are supported once you pass away is one of the most personal and important aspects of people’s lives. Unfortunately, with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, this has taken on an even greater importance – especially for those brave key workers on the front lines.
However, the strict social distancing rules currently in place make validly executing a will difficult. For a will to be valid and enforceable, it must comply with the Wills Act 1837 which requires wills to be witnessed by two independent people who are not beneficiaries of the will. The witnesses have to both watch the person who is making the will sign it and then they both have to sign underneath.
That all seems difficult to achieve in these times of social distancing when all non-essential travel is restricted and people are self-isolating for safety.
However, we are a resilient lot and people have responded in novel ways with reports of people holding the will documents in place with a windscreen wiper and having their witnesses sign the documents on the bonnet of a car as well as putting windows and porches to good use!
Safety has to be the first priority but if you are worried about getting your will signed then we would recommend asking whether there are any neighbours who could witness the will (preferably two people who reside together as they will not need to remain 2 metres apart from each other). You won’t be breaking any laws if this is done in the garden, with neighbours watching over the back fence/through a window at the appropriate distances. The position is even more difficult for an individual who wants to create or change their will but is in hospital or in a care home. Such establishments care for people who are particularly vulnerable to the virus, and because of this many will not allow visitors nor external documents which are potentially contaminated being brought into these environments.
The Government has confirmed that it is currently reviewing the law surrounding the witnessing of wills, in particular it is considering whether to allow wills to be witnessed over video conferences which, if put into practice, would enable people to use programmes such as Skype and Zoom to validly execute wills.
Responding to a written question, Alex Chalk MP, a junior justice minister, told parliament that ‘the constraints of the Covid-19 situation must be balanced against the important safeguards in the law to protect elderly and vulnerable people, in particular against undue influence and fraud. Having two independent witnesses provides safeguards to those making wills’
If you would like further information or would like to instruct us to assist you in creating or amending a will, please contact Tamara Hasson at [email protected]