A will can be witnessed and signed by anyone over the age of 18 – such as a neighbour, friend or colleague. The only rules are that they can't be a beneficiary of your will, married to a beneficiary, or blind.
Why does a will need to be witnessed?
After writing a will, you need to sign it alongside two witnesses to make it legally binding. First, you should sign your will with both witnesses watching, then each witness should add their signature alongside details like their name, address and occupation. This is so that, if your will is contested in the future, your witnesses can testify that they watched you sign your will.
Another reason your will needs to be witnessed is to demonstrate testamentary capacity…
What is testamentary capacity?
Testamentary capacity is the legal term used to describe a person's legal and mental ability to make or alter a will. In general, if someone can do all four of the following things, the law determines that they have testamentary capacity:
Understand the extent and value of their property
Understand they're making a will and deciding who will inherit their property
Understand who the people are that are closest to them (the people that might expect to be left something in the will)
Not be suffering from a delusion which makes them act differently from normal
If you think any of these points could be in doubt, we recommend that you ask a medical practitioner to act as one of your witnesses. This can help to prove that you have capacity to sign your will. There are a few other reasons why you may need a medical practitioner to witness your will, which will be covered later in this article.
Who can witness a will?
A will can be witnessed and signed by anyone over 18, as long as they don't stand to benefit from it.
Here are a few of the simplest options:
Neighbours: If you choose to print your will at home or get it sent to you in the post, your neighbours will probably be the easiest option.
Colleagues: If you print your will at work or get it sent to the office, you could get a couple of colleagues to witness and sign it.
Friends: Another good option is to get a couple of friends to witness and sign your will, as long as you haven't chosen to leave them any gifts or part of your estate.
Relatives: It's common for people to leave part of their estate to their partner, children and grandchildren, but you could get other relatives – like siblings or cousins – to witness your will.
As of 12 Jan 2022, wills can continue to be witnessed via Zoom in England and Wales
This will help people who are isolating either with covid or if they are vulnerable and have to stay at home to avoid social contact. The extension is set to last until Jan 31 2024, however the Law Commission is considering whether to make these changes permanent (as well as other changes to the current laws around wills).
How many witnesses do you need to sign a will?
You need two people to witness and sign your will, and they both need to be present at the same time to watch you sign it. This is so that, if anyone tries to contest your will in future, they can say they saw you sign it and therefore approved of its contents.
Who can't witness a will?
Your will can't be witnessed by anyone who stands to benefit from it. This includes:
Anyone you've left a gift or part of your estate to – otherwise known as beneficiaries. This means that, if you've chosen to leave your estate to your partner and children, they can't witness your will.
The spouse or civil partner of any beneficaries. So, if you've chosen to leave part of your estate to your daughter, your daughter's husband can't witness your will.
It's also important to note that your will can't be witnessed and signed by someone who is blind, as they need to be able to see you sign your will.
Can an executor witness a will?
Yes, an executor of a will can witness a will, as long as they aren't a beneficiary (or the spouse or civil partner of a beneficiary). It's also important that you tell your executor where your will is stored after it's been witnessed and signed, so you could show them in person if they're also one of your witnesses.
Can a beneficiary witness a will?
A beneficiary can't witness a will – and the same goes for the spouse or civil partner of any beneficiaries.
If you did get your will witnessed by a beneficiary (or their husband, wife or civil partner) any gifts, money and property that you've left to them in your will would be void.
Why you might need a medical practitioner to witness your will
The law in England and Wales recommends that anyone who is elderly or seriously ill should ask a medical practitioner, such as a GP, to act as a witness to their will. This is particularly important if you are mentally ill or have a terminal illness, as you need to be able to demonstrate testamentary capacity when writing a will.
If you feel like this might apply to you, you could ask your GP or specialist to witness your will. But remember, you'll still need a second person to witness your will, and they both need to watch you sign it at the same time.
What do witnesses need to do?
After writing a will, printing it out at home and binding the pages together, there are a couple of steps you and your witnesses need to take to make it legally valid:
Your chosen witnesses need to be together with you when you sign your will. This is so that, if your will is contested after you die, they can testify that they watched you sign your will.
Your witnesses need to add their details to your will alongside their signature. This is so they can easily be contacted if your will is contested in the future.
If you're writing a will using our online will writing service, you'll find clear guidance on what to do next after downloading and printing your will. But if you have any questions, please call us on 020 3695 2090.
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