Updated on 17 April 2020 due to a law change

The current situation we are facing with COVID-19 is extraordinary.  Many people will want to review their affairs and make Wills or update their old ones.

In normal circumstances it is always best to have your legal advisor prepare your Will, because they can talk to you about your specific circumstances, ask the right questions about things that you may not be aware you need to consider, and make sure that your wishes are correctly reflected before signing. 

They can also make sure that your Will is signed and witnessed in accordance with the law, so that it will be considered valid after your death. Wills are very important documents and there are, naturally, quite strict laws to help ensure that what is claimed to be a proper Will is in fact valid!

See your legal advisor to make or update your Will

If possible, you should see your legal advisor to make or update a Will.  Even though most people are confined to their homes during the alert level three and four responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, you can talk to your legal advisor via email, telephone and video call. 

The standard legal requirements for a Will

The standard legal requirements for a Will are that:

  • It must be in writing.

  • The will-maker must sign the Will, or direct someone else to sign on their behalf in their presence if they cannot sign personally.

  • At least two witnesses must be present when the will-maker signs, and they must also sign the Will document to acknowledge that they witnessed the will-maker (or the person signing on the will-maker’s behalf) sign the Will.

The Will should be dated at the time of signing, by the will-maker.

Witnessing a Will

Witnesses to the signing of a Will need to record that they witnessed the Will being signed by the will-maker, or by another person directed to sign on the will-maker’s behalf, in their presence.  As well as signing their names they should also record their occupation and where they live.  There is no particular wording required to do so. 

If a Will is more than one page long then the will-maker and witnesses should sign their initials on each page and complete their signatures on the last page.  This is to make it clear that every page of the document has been read, and to reduce the chance of later alterations by adding or substituting a page. 

However in an emergency you may not have people physically present with you who can be witnesses to you signing your Will. 

Changes due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

A major problem arising at the moment while we are required to “stick to our bubbles” and adhere to an alert level four or alert level three directive is that most will-makers and their witnesses cannot be physically present together and so cannot meet the usual requirements for a validly executed Will.

The law has today (17 April 2020) been updated to amend the way Wills can be signed and witnessed, for the duration of the Epidemic Preparedness (COVID-19) Notice 2020.  The changes allow for signing and witnessing via audio-visual link, and the use of scanned or photographed copies rather than one single document. 

Once the Epidemic Notice expires you may wish to consider having a single document Will executed in the normal manner.

Why is this necessary?

A document that does not meet the legal requirements for a Will is not a valid Will.  The wishes contained in that document will have no legal effect and cannot be carried out after death. 

This is a brand new and unprecedented change to the law, and provides a realistic solution for an otherwise very serious problem. 

We urge anybody who wants to make or update a Will to contact their legal advisor to discuss the new law and how it might be used to assist in their circumstances. 

Many legal advisors are working from home and able to support their clients remotely.  It is extremely important to take legal advice to ensure that the proper execution process for a Will is followed.