200-year-old will writing laws difficult to uphold with current restrictions

Lawyers across the country have reported a rise in the demand for Wills due to Covid-19. The 200 year old law which sets out the requirements for a valid Will are difficult to comply with in the current restrictions. 

To be valid a Will must be signed in front of two independent witnesses, who are physically present. Lawyers and clients have had to resort to new methods to ensure the Will complies with the rules for example through windows, car bonnets, driveways and over garden fences. 

The Law Society has called on the Ministry of Justice to make changes to the law, but no changes have yet been made.  For now we will continue to see the use of new methods of signing and witnessing that comply with the law and social distancing. 

Documents have been held in place by windscreen wipers and signed on a car bonnet in a novel way for wills to be witnessed during social distancing.

Signatures are also being watched through windows and patio doors as current restrictions make 200-year-old will writing laws difficult to uphold.

Ministers say there are no plans to relax the strict rules.

Solicitors are reporting a 'massive rise' in demand for wills from people worried about coronavirus.

Failing to correctly sign a will in front of two independent witnesses, who are physically present, in England and Wales is likely to lead to a judge ruling the document, and any legacy in it, invalid.

In Scotland, the regulations are less formal, and only require one witness.

Call for law to be relaxed

The law is strict on writing a will and ensuring it is valid in England and Wales. This includes signing it in front of two independent witnesses in person, and having two people signing it in your presence.

The existing law dates from 1837, the start of Queen Victoria's reign, to protect individuals at a time of less efficient record keeping, lower levels of literacy, and less advanced technology.

The witnessing rules have been tested by the lockdown, isolation, and social distancing requirements in place during the coronavirus outbreak - at a time when many people want to finalise a will at relatively short notice.

This has led to people witnessing signatures over garden fences and standing in driveways, with solicitors often overseeing from a safe distance.

The Law Society, the solicitors' trade body, has called on the Ministry of Justice to make changes to the law, such as allowing the careful use of video conferencing in the process.