For a will to be legally-binding, the signature of the person making the will must be witnessed. Witnesses verify that the person making the will is the person signing it, that they haven’t been coerced into signing, that they have the mental capacity to understand what they are signing, and that their signature isn’t forged. But can anybody be a witness?
Wills don’t need to be witnessed by a solicitor or judge. Ordinary people outside of the legal profession can witness wills. But there are some strict rules about who can serve as a witness. Failing to follow these rules can render a will invalid.
In England and Wales, a will must be witnessed by two witnesses. In Scotland, a will is valid with one or more witnesses.
In England and Wales, witnesses must be over 18, while in Scotland they must be over 16.
Usually, witnesses must be physically present at the signing. This requirement was amended in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic to make it lawful for wills to be witnessed through video-conferencing technology.
While the government advises people to use physical witnesses where possible, it’s now admissible for those who are shielding or self-isolating to have their wills witnesses virtually. The legislation is due to run until 31 January 2024 but may be extended or ended early depending on public health guidelines.
Witnesses cannot be blind or partially sighted because they need to physically see the person signing and be able to read the document. They also need to have the mental capacity to understand the will.
Witnesses must be independent. This means they can’t be a beneficiary of the will or the spouse or civil partner of the person making it.
While other family members not named as beneficiaries in the will can technically serve as witnesses, this isn’t advisable in case they have a legitimate claim as a residuary beneficiary in the future (such as in the event of the death of named beneficiaries). With family members excluded, many people ask friends, work colleagues, or neighbours to witness their wills.
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