As part of the process of writing your will, you will need to sign it in the presence of witnesses. These witnesses put their names on the document, showing that they saw the will and that you signed it willingly.
In the UK, a will should be signed by two independent adults. If you go to solicitors they’ll usually act as witnesses for your will. Witnesses can’t be family members or will beneficiaries.
Your witnesses must see the moment that you signed your will to approve it, but they do not need to be there for the process of putting your wishes onto paper. You can write a will online, print it off and then sign it in front of other people.
Read on to learn more about who can witness a will.
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Written in 1837, the Wills Act sets out the formalities of writing a will. It clarifies who can write a will, who can witness a will and what should be included in the document.
A will may not be legal and valid if it doesn’t meet specific criteria. This can make it difficult to write a binding will, but also protects those that might otherwise be led to writing a will they didn’t want to.
Two people need to witness the signing of a will in the UK. These witnesses must be there for the moment you sign your will, then adding their own names and signatures to show that they saw you sign the document.
If there’s any doubt about whether or not you willingly signed the piece of paper, your witnesses may be asked to give assurance that you read the will, agreed to it and signed it.
In the UK, witnesses must be adults over the age of 18. They can’t be family members, and you can’t have your spouse as a witness. Your witnesses must be people that won’t benefit from your will at all, including the spouses of your will beneficiaries. Essentially, you can’t have your will witnessed by anyone with a vested interest.
In the past, it was easier to find a witness for your will. At a solicitor’s office, there are usually staff members that can act as the witness for your will. This means that you don’t need to find, or invite, other people.
Now, more people are writing their own DIY wills. There are templates online and kits in shops, so you can create your own will. A DIY will, or an online will, is often much cheaper to produce. Since you’re not writing your will in the presence of others, you will need to find your witnesses yourself. You can invite people to witness the signing of your will.
Done properly, and witnessed correctly, a DIY will is just as legal and valid as one made by a solicitor.
Your witnesses must experience the physical act of you signing the will. They must see for themselves the document you’re signing, and the moment you sign it.
Witnesses must be over 18 and can’t be your spouse, a family member or a beneficiary. They also can’t be a beneficiary’s spouse, as they might also indirectly benefit.
Anyone else can be your witness if their eyesight allows it. People that are blind and partially sighted can’t be the witness to your will, as it can be argued that they didn’t see the moment the document was signed.
Witnesses should be of sound mind. They must have the mental capacity to understand what they are doing when they’re acting as your witness.
Your witnesses are there to show that you’ve signed your will knowingly. Perhaps you didn’t know the rules and your will was signed by a beneficiary’s spouse? Don’t panic, because this doesn’t mean that your will isn’t valid at all.
If a will is signed by an incorrect witness, this won’t mean that the will is invalid. What it does mean is that if there are any doubts, the will might not hold up in court.
If someone argues that you didn’t sign your own will, or that you didn’t know what you were signing, the courts may need to make a decision about whether or not it should be followed. Valid witnesses can back up your will, but any that aren’t valid must have their experience discounted.
Your will doesn’t become useless, though you won’t have the backing of the witness that’s not considered valid. This can mean there’s a higher chance of your will not being followed as you wanted.
In some cases, witnesses will lose their right to anything you’ve left them. If a will beneficiary acts as a witness, they may be removed from your will. The rest of your will might be followed, but the witness won’t receive their share of any gift that you left to them. Their witness statement continues to be valid, but their claim to your estate does not.
You don’t want to waste your time and effort getting wills signed by the wrong people, but shouldn’t need to worry that an incorrect witness will automatically make your will invalid.
The rules for will witnesses have been put in place for your protection. By removing beneficiaries from the equation, there’s a lower chance of people being made to write and sign a will under duress.
It’s a sad fact that some people will write a will on someone’s behalf, including themselves as a beneficiary then asking for the will to be signed. If a witness is due to benefit, this will raise questions about will validity and whether you were pressured into writing it.
You don’t need any qualifications to witness a will. Anyone can be a witness, as long as they don’t have a vested interest in the document itself. You could write your will at home and then invite your next door neighbour to act as a witness to your will. You could take your will to work and get it signed in the staff room, or ask any friend that isn’t due to benefit.
You can also ask a GP to witness your will. Many people choose to ask their GP to witness if their own mental state is in question. A GP can confirm that the will was signed with knowledge and awareness of what it entailed.
Both witnesses must be present for the moment you sign your will. This means that you must all be in the same room at the same time. You can’t ask one witness to sign the will later, as they both must be there for the moment that you sign the document.
It’s a good idea to let your witness look over the document you’re signing. They should be able to see what it looks like, so that they could confirm the same in future. Otherwise, you could be signing any document from your child’s artwork to an employment contract!
Give your witnesses time to check the document and make sure that they’re happy with their role. Afterwards, sign the document whilst both of your witnesses are watching. Your witnesses then need to sign the will themselves, whilst you remain in their presence.
It is sensible to update your will from time to time as your financial/personal situation changes. Many people may be used to the simple witnessing of an amendment to a legal document, but it is not that straightforward with wills. As a consequence, many people prefer to produce a new will to be signed by two witnesses. There is no legal obligation for the original witnesses to sign your new will - it is purely and simply down to the individual.
When amending a will by creating a new one, it is important that the original will (all copies) are destroyed in the presence of the person taking out the will. If these older copies were to emerge further down the line, they could cause significant legal problems.
There has been a huge move towards online and DIY wills in recent years. Where you have relatively simple financial/personal affairs, there will be little if any major challenges as long as you follow the guidelines. The situation is not so straightforward when it comes to more complex financial/personal affairs.
Many people prefer to put their mind at peace by asking a solicitor to look over their DIY will to ensure it is accurate and more importantly, legal. This then begs the question; why not use a solicitor to create your will in the first place?
If you have any doubts about creating your own will, you should consider legal advice. Errors discovered further down the line could cause serious issues and prevent the distribution of your estate as you wished.
We often look at individuals who are able to witness your will. However, this is a list of individuals who should not witness your will:-
Those with insufficient mental capacity or blind/partially blind people and not able to witness a will because either they don’t fully understand what is happening or they are unable to read the document. There are very strict regulations regarding beneficiaries or relations of beneficiaries witnessing wills. It is essential there is no conflict-of-interest at any time.
Under the laws surrounding wills, a witness cannot be a spouse/partner of a beneficiary. In the event that a witness was to marry a beneficiary further down the line, it would be sensible to take legal advice. Many people may choose to “re-witness” their will to avoid any potential confusion and remove the chances of a legal challenge.
In the event that your will was to remain unchanged in this scenario, it may be that the beneficiary is not able to accept any gifts from the estate. This could have a potential knock-on effect to the remaining beneficiaries and their share of the estate. Alternatively, the estate could get tied up in legal arguments often at significant cost to all parties.
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