We previously reported about the difficulties that the requirement for social distancing has presented in relation to signing wills. 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, who 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.
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.
Despite what seems to be clear law in relation to the witnessing of wills, it is being reported that solicitors' firms have been arranging for clients to witness wills over video link applications (such as zoom) and then suggesting that they sign again after lockdown. This practice could lead to a lot of wills being declared invalid.
Once a will is made, the signatory is unlikely to think about going back to their solicitor to have it re-signed. And there will be some unfortunate cases where the testator has died before they had the chance to re-sign it. If a will is declared invalid, this could mean that those whom the testator wanted to benefit get nothing.
So, it is important for anyone who has signed a will since 23 March 2020 to check the circumstances of how their will was signed. In the long run, this may be a safer and cheaper course of action than a will being declared invalid after the death of the testator.
To discuss this or any other wills and probate matter, contact us.