For your Will to be legally binding, it must be witnessed properly. However, there are certain rules around witnessing a Will, so be careful who you choose!
Why Do You Need a Witness?
Every Will needs to be witnessed by at least two people to confirm the testator (the writer of the Will) is the same person signing it. It must be signed in their presence to ensure the Will is genuine, not made under duress to help prevent fraud, and to prove the testator has the necessary testamentary capacity.
After watching the testator sign the Will, the two witnesses must then sign and leave their name, address, and occupation in case they need to be contacted about the validity of the Will. However, they don’t need to know the content of the Will.
Without proper witnessing, your Will could be deemed invalid, and your wishes could be disregarded, so choose your witnesses wisely!
Witnessing a Will is part of proving that you have the testamentary capacity needed to make, sign, or alter your Will. Being able to prove testamentary capacity involves understanding:
- The value of your property
- Who will inherit your property
- Who is close to you and may expect something in your Will
You must also not be suffering from a condition which makes you act differently from normal, such as dementia. If it can be proven by a medical professional that you have full capacity, it makes your Will very difficult to contest.
Who Can Witness a Will?
Your Will can be signed and witnessed by anyone over eighteen, as long as they have no stake in it. They can’t be your spouse or a beneficiary in any way, so you may opt to ask people such as:
If your executors are not included in the Will, you can also choose them as witnesses. Your witnesses can be married to one another but must not stand to benefit anything from your Will.
In some cases, medical practitioners may need to witness the signing of a Will in the case of elderly or seriously ill testators. Medical professionals can determine whether they have the testamentary capacity to be able to sign and prevent any disputes from arising in the future.
Witnessing a Will does not have to be done in person. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, people can witness a Will via video calls to help protect vulnerable people and those isolating for any reason.
After signing, witnesses do not have any legal responsibilities; however, they may be called upon in the future if the validity of the Will is questioned. Their testimony could be vital if someone claims that the signature on the Will is forged or the testator signed it under duress.
Both of your witnesses must be present simultaneously to witness your Will and watch you sign it. Once everyone has signed the Will (including you as the testator), your Will is legally binding, and your loved one’s future is secured.
Refusing to Sign a Will
If you have been asked to witness a Will, there are several reasons why you may choose not to sign it, such as:
- You know the person signing is not the testator
- You do not think the testator has the mental capacity to understand what they are signing and why
- The testator is being coerced into signing the Will by another party
Who Should Not Witness Your Will?
Along with any beneficiaries included in your Will, there are several other people who shouldn’t witness your Will:
- Your spouse or civil partner
- Anyone under eighteen
- Anyone blind or partially sighted
Although you can choose a family member to be a witness if they are not benefitting from your Will, this may not be advisable. You may want to include them or their partner in the future, so it may be better to ask a neighbour or coworker to be a witness instead.
If any of the above witnesses the signing of your Will, it may mean that your Will could be found invalid or specific gifts could fail. If one of your beneficiaries or their spouse witnesses your Will, the particular gift to that beneficiary will fail, although the rest of your Will remains valid.
What Happens After A Will is Signed?
Once your Will is properly written and signed, it must be stored appropriately and safely. Many people store it at home with other important documents such as birth and marriage certificates. Make sure that your executors know where your Will is so they can find it after you pass away and begin the administration process as soon as possible.
Along with keeping it at home, you may also choose to store your Will with:
- A solicitor – Many people leave their Wills with their solicitors for secure storage. However, this could be more expensive, especially if your solicitor did not write your Will.
- A Will-writing service – Will-writing services will often store a copy of your Will for you so your solicitor can retrieve it when needed.
- The Probate Service – You can store your Will with the Probate Service in England and Wales for a flat rate. However, only you can retrieve the Will, and your solicitor won’t be able to get it for you.
Witnessing a Will is a key part of estate planning. Without witnesses, your Will will be found invalid, and your assets will not go to who you want.
Create an airtight estate plan today with The Planning Bee. Our legal experts are experienced in Will writing, establishing trusts, and setting up Lasting Powers of Attorney, so no matter your needs, we can help.