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24 March 2020 2 Comments
Posted in Opinion, Private Client, Private Wealth

Will witnesses during the Coronavirus – does the requirement need to be waived to save time?

Author headshot image Posted by , Partner

As Coronavirus cases increase so does, understandably, the demand for will services. But, as self-isolation and social distancing requirements are raised, how is the way in which wills can be witnessed and processed likely to change? Should we be looking to the government to bring in new legislation to mirror the process of wills for those in the armed forces or merchant seamen at sea?

An increase in demand – a change of processes?

Section 11 of the Wills Act 1837 introduced the Privileged Will which allows for members of the armed forces to draw up a will quickly when they do not have the time, resources or capabilities to comply with formalities otherwise needed. They are able to make either a written or an oral will and, if written, there is no requirement for witnesses to its execution.

With the coronavirus pandemic moving as quickly as it is, this is seeing more people wanting to draw up a will and sometimes with practical difficulties to execution. Having a Privileged Will would enable them to do this and reduce concern of there not being a will in place when really needed.

What is the current process?

Generally, in law a will must be signed not only by the person making it but also by two independent witnesses. Since the coronavirus outbreak began in the UK, we have been noticing more and more people struggling to find those willing and able to act as witnesses. This is exacerbated by the need for the witnesses not to be people who stand to benefit from the will in question. If someone is self-isolating the chances are that they will be at home with the very people they may intend to benefit.

Additionally, given the government’s announcement that the NHS is writing to 1.5 million people in England most at risk, encouraging them to stay at home, this means they can’t have face-to-face contact with anyone other than those they live with. This makes it even harder to bring an independent witness in or to identify a witness who is not themselves self-isolating.

These limitations could perhaps be avoided through extending the use of Privileged Wills to others for whom circumstances make it all but impossible to comply with normal requirements.

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2 comments on Will witnesses during the Coronavirus – does the requirement need to be waived to save time?

  1. Posted by Michael George Newton on March 24, 2020 at 10:33 pm

    I have recently received an inheritance and need to update my Will. The new Will has been written but how can I get it witnessed?

    • Posted by James McNeile on March 25, 2020 at 8:58 am

      Thank you for your comment, yes this is the challenge that many people are facing. Until the government addresses this, many people like your yourself will find themselves in a situation where they are doing the right thing and updating their wills, but are unable to execute.

      At RWK, despite our solicitors being in lockdown themselves, we are offering interviews by Skype, Zoom or WhatsAPP.

      We are emailing questionnaires to clients in advance of the “meeting” so that we can quickly gauge the level of complexity and any potential issues relating to capacity and thus which of our specialist lawyers should conduct the interview.

      If clients are struggling to connect visually, we are taking some will instructions by phone. Execution of the Wills is currently down to flexibility or ingenuity depending on personal circumstances.


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