Coronavirus: The Conflict between Social Distancing and Signing your Will

These are uncertain and unprecedented times. COVID-19 is dominating the news and we, as a population, have to adapt to a new way of life, and one that includes such things as social distancing.

As many of us are practising social distancing, you may find yourself at home, away from your workplace and with more time on your hands. Many will be using this time to catch up with general life-admin, and of course considering their future. The Daily Telegraph has reported that levels of requests for New Wills are up by 30 per cent since Coronavirus reached the UK. At Lanyon Bowdler, we can most certainly believe this statistic, as we continue to receive an influx of instructions for new Wills on a daily basis.

We are following government guidelines regarding the COVID-19 outbreak and we acknowledge the need to stay safe at this time. Whilst it may be difficult at the moment for you to leave your home to come in and see us, you can easily get in touch with us by phone, email or by video conferencing (which allows us to take your instructions without the need for face-to-face meetings). We will be more than happy to help you and your family with any concerns you may have during these uncertain times.

How Can I Have my Signature Witnessed when Social Distancing?

The issue crops up when it comes time to sign your Will. After we have received your instructions we can send you your Will for signing at home (to avoid you having to leave the house and attend the office). To be validly executed, a Will must be signed by the testator (you) in the presence of two independent witnesses, who must also sign the Will in your presence.

As you can see, this presents an issue given the guidance as regards social distancing.

Asking your spouse or a family member in your household to witness the Will is not the solution. Your witnesses must not be a beneficiary of the Will. If one of them were to sign as your witnesses, then they would lose any gift or inheritance left to them in the Will.

To comply with the current guidelines regarding social distancing, you should not have friends or neighbours over at your house and you should avoid coming into contact with others. How then, can a Will be validly signed and witnessed?

Some options could include signing outside with neighbours looking on over the garden fence, or on your doorstep with witnesses at the other end of the driveway. It is extremely important, however, in all cases, to keep a safe distance from others and to comply with the latest government guidance at all times, for example by witnessing at a distance of at least two metres and with everyone using their own pens.

In these times of social distancing, the above options present their own problems, in particular with regards to those in a vulnerable category, or those who may be self-isolating. But what about witnessing a Will through a window?

The Case of Casson v Dade

You may be surprised to learn that such a situation was, in fact, addressed in a very old piece of case law: the case of Casson v Dade of 1781.

In Casson Miss Honora Jenkins went to her solicitor’s office to execute her Will. She signed the Will in the office, in the presence of her witnesses. After she signed the Will, however, Miss Jenkins felt faint and was taken to sit in her carriage outside of the office. The witnesses to the Will stayed in the solicitor’s office and signed the Will, at which time the carriage window was in a clear line of sight with the office window. Miss Jenkins looked through the window and therefore could see the witnesses signing the Will. The case of Casson suggests therefore that it may be sufficient to have two witnesses who are in line of sight though not in the same room, i.e. through a window or closed patio door. This could be the solution needed when it comes to validly executing your Will.

Advice Regarding the Validity of Your Will

COVID-19 is changing the world we live in on a daily basis. In these unprecedented and unpredictable times, it is natural for us to be thinking about the future and planning for the unknown. As part of this, we just need to ensure that any documents are valid and correct.

At Lanyon Bowdler we are continuing to provide legal services to you and we will remain available to discuss your matter. If you want to talk about your Wills or any other related issues, then please get in touch with one of our experienced private client solicitors.