The rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic continues to put an unprecedented strain on our economic, medical and human resources across the globe. In the UK, households listened on Monday 23 March as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced social restrictions never before imposed in peacetime.
Since the imposition of these new measures, families are juggling working from home, home schooling, and looking after children and loved ones. This is especially hard for households with family members who are isolating because they are over 70 or have underlying health issues. Many will be concerned they have not made wills or may want to review their existing wills to ensure that their loved ones are provided for should the worst happen. This is reflected in the huge surge in demand for solicitors and will writers in recent weeks. However, since the PM's address it is now very difficult to observe the formalities required to sign a valid will whilst adhering to advice on social distancing and self-isolation.
What are the current rules?
For a will to be valid:
- it must be in writing, signed by you and witnessed by two persons who are over 18 years of age
- you must understand the document and the effect it will have
- you must be making the will of your own free will
You must sign your will in the presence of two independent witnesses, who must also sign the will in your presence. This means that at least three people need to be in a room together when each person signs. It is very important to note that a beneficiary or their spouse or civil partner cannot benefit from a will they have witnessed.
So what is the problem?
For many it will simply not be possible under the present regime to sign their wills in a safe and legally compliant environment. The rules are clear: a witness cannot under any circumstance benefit from a will they have witnessed. This means that in the majority of households it will not be possible to ask two other persons to witness your will. This presents significant challenges for many individuals and families at present. This is especially true where family members are over 70 or have underlying health conditions and are therefore being advised to self-isolate to protect themselves and others from coronavirus.
Is there a solution?
There is some possible good news for people who want to make wills but feel they cannot do so at present while they self-isolate. There is a growing recognition of this problem by professional bodies including The Law Society and the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners who are currently in discussion with the Government. The idea is to somewhat relax the rules governing the creation and signing of wills. This is a strong point of public interest and has already become an increasing concern for many people over the past few days.
The best advice at the present time is to stay well and safe and to follow the Government's advice as it applies to you. Stay in touch with your solicitor who will be able to advise you how to sign your will safely whilst ensuring it is valid should the hoped for relaxation of the rules be announced in the near future.
If you are signing your will at home, you should take time to carefully read and follow the instructions provided by the solicitor or will writer to ensure your will is legally effective and binding. If you are not confident signing your will at home, ask the professional working with you to support you through the process by video call for additional peace of mind.