During these worrying and uncertain times, making a Will is one way to take control and give yourself peace of mind that your wishes are properly recorded should the worst happen.
We set out below some of our top tips for making a Will during this time.
When making a Will, there are a number of important considerations in addition to perhaps the obvious one of who you wish to benefit from your estate. For example:
At VWV we take the time to understand your personal situation, enabling us to advise you on all of these points and prepare a Will that is tailor-made for you. It is not necessary to meet in person to do this. For the safety of you and others, we can take instructions from you over the phone or by video call. We can send the draft Will and our explanation of the Will to you by post or email and, once the Will has been finalised, we will send you detailed instructions on how to sign it.
Once your Will has been prepared, read it through carefully. It is preferable for any changes to be made and incorporated before the final version is printed for you to sign. However, if last-minute amendments are needed and it is not possible for you to print a new copy, these can be made by hand.
You must make any alterations to your Will before you sign it. Any alterations should be initialled by you and your witnesses (see below) in the margin opposite the alteration and the words "Amended before signature" added above the initials.
Under the current law, for a Will to be legally valid, it must be signed in person, in the presence of two witnesses who must also sign the Will1.
Who can act as a witness?
It is not necessary for your Will to be witnessed by lawyers, however it should not be witnessed by either a beneficiary, or a member of their family. If a beneficiary acts as a witness, they lose the benefit left to them. It is important that both of your witnesses are independent of you and your beneficiaries.
Given the Government's current advice on self-isolation, quarantine and social distancing, this requirement can present practical difficulties.
What should I do?
We advise that you follow the steps suggested below, to execute your Will and stay safe:
It is also possible for the witnesses to watch the signing through a window or from another room, although in those circumstances it might not be as straightforward to conclude that the witnesses were formally in your presence, if the Will was ever challenged.
Once your Will has been signed by you and both of your witnesses, check it over carefully. If possible, send a scanned copy or clear photograph to us, so that we can check it has been executed properly. If your Will has not been executed in accordance with the strict legal requirements, it could be challenged and held to be invalid.
If your Will is not already bound, staple it in the top left-hand corner using one staple. Once stapled, do not remove the staple. Do not allow anything else to be pinned, stapled, paper-clipped or fastened to your Will in any way and do not punch a hole in it. Any sign that another document has been attached to your Will is likely to lead to enquiries being raised.
When it is safe to do so, please send the original Will to us, or store it in a safe place; we recommend keeping it in an A4 envelope or plastic wallet, to protect it from damage. It is sensible to make sure that we and/or family members know where your Will is kept, so it can be located it in the event of your death.
Throughout the pandemic, there has been ongoing discussions about the possibility of the Government passing emergency legislation to relax the legal requirements for executing Wills. Many commentators have called for a change to the law, permitting individuals to sign or witness Wills electronically.
On 21 April the Government confirmed that the case for reforming the law was currently under review, but acknowledged that it must be balanced against the need to protect particularly elderly and vulnerable people against undue influence and fraud.
1On 25 July 2020 the Government announced that it would pass legislation to temporarily allow Wills to be witnessed via live video-link, where individuals are unable to comply with the usual formalities, as detailed above. The new legislation, intended to be brought into force in September 2020, will apply retrospectively, to include Wills made from 31 January 2020. For further information on what this means and the possible pitfalls to be aware of, please read our latest article here. Despite this proposed change to the law, our advice remains that it is preferable to execute your will in accordance with the current rules, by following the above steps, if at all possible.
We will continue to report on any changes to the law in this area. To keep up to date, please subscribe to our regular legal briefings.