Making Your Will Whilst Socially Distancing – How BBS Can Help

By Kerry Blackhurst

The current COVID-19 situation has understandably led to many people wishing to make or update their Wills, with reports indicating a 30% surge in client enquiries nationwide.  BBS Law are very happy to assist in these times and this summary will be helpful in reminding you on what the requirements are for a valid Will and how we can help you with the formalities.

The difficulty (aside from the fact that most solicitors favour face-to-face meetings when taking instructions for preparing a Will) is that there are very strict formalities required to make a valid Will – not least the need for two witnesses to be present at the time when the Will is signed.

Whilst the Ministry of Justice, Law Society and other key parties are debating whether the formalities relating to the preparation of Wills can be relaxed, it is important for our clients to know that by adapting and innovating, we are still able to provide the service they require.

What are the Requirements for a Valid Will? 

The law relating to Wills is set out in the Wills Act 1837. A Will must be executed in accordance with the provisions of this law in order to be valid. If a Will does not comply with these requirements, it will be held to be invalid and means that the deceased’s estate will have to be administered as an intestacy. This can bring unintended and unacceptable consequences for the original beneficiaries.

The relevant requirements are that the Will should be:

  1. In writing, and signed by the testator, or by some other person in their presence and by their direction
  2. The testator intended by their signature to give effect to the will
  3. Signed by the person making the Will (the testator) in the presence of two independent witnesses (who must be present at the same time).
  4. The witnesses must each sign the Will in the presence of the testator

During the current time it would be very helpful if the requirement for testator and witnesses to be “present” could extend to a virtual presence, for example over Zoom. Unfortunately, this has not happened and the requirement remains to be that testator and witness must be physically in each other’s presence.

How Does COVID-19 Affect the Making of a Will?

The key impact is that the requirements or recommendations of social distancing, especially for elderly or vulnerable clients, make it difficult to arrange for witnesses to be present at the time of signature, as it is likely that any members of their household are beneficiaries of the Will and therefore should not also be witnesses.

The law is very clear that witnesses of a Will should be independent and should not be beneficiaries of the Will. Indeed, any gift to a Witness would be held to be invalid.

How Can BBS Law Help?

Whilst our solicitors are working from home for the time being, we are regularly speaking to our clients to take instructions over the telephone or by video conferencing (WhatsApp and Zoom are especially popular). We are therefore fully able to advise upon and draft Wills to meet our client’s needs.

For our clients in the London or North West England we offer all manner of solutions to arrange for the signature of Wills, as we are able to provide two witnesses who will undertake a home visit. We have witnessed Wills through windows, in cars and in gardens, all safely observing current requirements for social distancing, and resulting in valid Wills being executed.

For clients elsewhere, we are able to provide final versions of Wills with full instructions for the signing of the same. We can also be present over the telephone or by video call to supervise the signing of the Will by testator and Witnesses to ensure that this is completely in the correct manner.

BBS Law continues to be open for business and meeting our client’s needs, so please do not hesitate to contact Kerry Blackhurst who heads our Private Client team on 0161 832 2500 to discuss your own circumstances.