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  Guidelines: How to Sign a Will 2020 England and Wales.

Signing a Will incorrectly is likely to mean that it doesn’t work.  Especially during these challenging times, it is vital to get it right, so we go through the basics then suggest ways to comply with the Wills Act of 1837 when coronavirus or any other health issues cause problems. Apart from those on active service, Wills must always be in writing, and there can only be one valid Will at any point in time. The instructions for signing the Will must be followed for it to be valid – and that isn’t always easy these days!

It is not currently possible to sign a Will remotely.  The person whose Will it is and the two witnesses must be able to see each other clearly throughout the process – and that does NOT include using video conferencing,

Signing a Last Will and Testament: the basic rules in England and Wales. How to Sign and Witness a Will:

Before you start gathering the two essential independent Witnesses to your Will, bear in mind that they must be genuinely independent, over 18, they don’t need to be lawyers and they cannot be blind.  See 2) below for more details.

  • The person whose Will it is must intend their signature to bring the Will into existence as a formal document. (No sneaking a Will in for them to sign when they don’t realise what it is!)
  • There must be THREE people gathered together: the person whose Will has to be signed and two independent witnesses who must be over 18. Family members and their spouses are specifically barred, drunks should be avoided, as should anyone whose word might be doubted. Witnesses are barred from inheriting anything in the Will and should have no significant connection with anyone who might benefit so avoid children’s friends just in case.  Why? Anyone in a position to benefit directly or indirectly from your Will could raise suspicion of “undue influence” and your Will ends up in Court at vast expense.     A witness doesn’t need to read the Will, but they should be aware that they are witnessing one.  Neighbours are often ideal witnesses.  It is also preferable that the witnesses should know who you are.
  • Legally, the person whose Will it is can sign it in advance of the witnessing, then acknowledge their signature in front of the two witnesses. However, this is not considered good practice, and there is usually no reason not to follow the standard procedure which is:
  • The person whose Will it is must sign the Will on the last page, watched by both witnesses. The witnesses then, while all three are still together, each sign below the testators signature, and write in their full name and address, just in case there is a dispute over whether the signing was carried out properly. Some people sign every page, which is perfectly OK.
  • The Will should always be dated, just to ensure there is no confusion over which Last Will and Testament is the valid one at the time of death. Paying Court and lawyers fees to sort that problem out could otherwise be very expensive.
  • Wills should be stored securely, to avoid loss (sometimes deliberate by disappointed beneficiaries) or damage. We recommend our sister company, whose Peace of Mind Services we believe ticks all the boxes for your future security as can be ticked at a reasonable cost.

If you want to have a look at the Legislation, it is the Wills Act 1837 as updated.

So how to Witness a Will during Coronovirus or other problem times?

These are just suggestions, let us know if you have any more. Always remember to take necessary precautions to ensure germs are not passed on with the Will or the witnesses are not within 2 metres or are behind glass. Witnesses should ideally wear gloves and bring their own pens.  Try to ensure there is a useful surface to sign on, so your signature really does look like your signature.  Worst case, take a large book to rest the Will on.

  • The witnesses stand outside a window, watching you sign the Will. Then you pass it out through the window, and the witnesses then sign in turn.  Again, a large book could provide a flat surface.
  • You drive up in your car, the witnesses look through the window to see you sign. Then you crack the window open, pass the Will out and the Witnesses sign it on the bonnet and pass it back through a slit in the window.
  • One for flat dwellers. Sign the Will in a hallway, with the Witnesses at the far end (or ends if they are not together. Pop the Will down on the floor or table, retreat two metres keeping the table in sight.  The witnesses then approach and sign in turn.
  • Open-air witnessing. In an open space, you sign watched by the witnesses, then they in turn sign. Pop the book on a bench or on a wall to provide a flat surface.
  • It is possible, but not recommended for one of the witnesses to be instructed to sign the Will on behalf of the person whose Will it is.  In my opinion, this should only be used when absolutely essential as there are all sorts of ways it could go wrong – like the Will is not the correct one!  It can be useful, but be very careful to ensure you get clear instructions from a professional, based on the individual situation.
  • Whilst it is not ideal, the person whose Will it is can sign in advance, then confirm their signature to the two witnesses before watching them sign in turn.

If in doubt, seek professional advice from the person who wrote the Will – our comments on this page are purely generic.

Jargon you are likely to come across in signing a Will:

Testator = person whose Will it is.

Executor/s = persons responsible for implementing Will after death. the Trustees are often the same people, and they are responsible for managing the estate, paying bills, paying out specific gifts and finally distribution:

Estate: = whatever the person owned and owed = assets and liabilities.

The Residuary Estate = what is left after expenses, gifts and bills have been paid out.

Beneficiary = person who will inherit something user the Will.

Above all, be safe and make sure everyone is protected against any illness which might transmit for the person whose Will it is to the witnesses or the other way round.  That could mean it is safer for the witnesses to hold on to the Will temporarily.

Who IS a Professional Will Writer

Who IS a Professional Will Writer?

It can be hard to tell who is a Professional Will Writer (which is why we check for you.)   There are many “professional associations” which are nothing more than marketing groups disguised as professional bodies.   This is not to say that anyone not on this list is, just a gentle warning that all is not always what it seems with “professional associations.”

Our professional Will Writers are normally drawn from several groups of regulated professional Will Writers:

The biggest professional body dedicated to training and regulating professional Will Writers.

A much smaller body but better know as it has an excellent PR machine!

A very large and international Society: it is not a regulator in any sense of the word, but many accountants, solicitors and Will Writers active in the wider Estate Planning field will be members.  Members are not regulated in the traditional sense, but membership is certainly a good sign.

A Law Commission survey noted that solicitors were not always well placed to write Wills, and conduct sound Legal Planning.   General Practice means dealing with many and varied topics, and there is no requirement for ongoing training in Will Writing and Legal Planning. Indeed,many solicitors have never had any training at all on Will Writing, though one assumes they would never do so! In effect, members self certify that they have spent the necessary time to keep up to date in the fast-changing field of Wills, Powers of Attorney and general Legal Planning.   Some don’t realise it IS ever changing.  The Law Society in response has introduced their Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme.  So if you use a solicitor, you should look out for an individual who has the TEP qualification (is a full member of the Society of Tax and Estate Planners) or is accredited under the Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme.

The biggest issue with solicitors is that they try to get themselves appointed as executors or as joint executors “to help the family.”  This is a sneaky marketing maneuver to put the solicitor in charge when you die.  Joint executorship is worse and more expensive tha just letting the solicitor get on with it: they will charge for the extra time spent dealing with the family executor and checking everything they do.  This is necessary for the solicitor, as their reputation is at risk if it goes wrong.

There are of course cases where it is right to have professional executors, but you should compare their current charges  (at least as a guideline) and any extras they charge before agreeing.  Some charge a percentage “responsibility allowance” which in essence means that they charge nearly 1000 times as much to deal with a bank account with £10,000 in it than one with £10.  Both take the same amount of work.

If you are looking for professional executors, we recommend that you check out The Probate Department Ltd: it is a sister company so you should look at others too before choosing.