Who Can Witness A Will In The UK?

Wills

Often when people write a will they spend a lot of time considering who they would like to inherit their assets. It’s just as important, however, to make sure you are following the rules to ensure your will is legally valid.

If you do pass away without a valid will your estate could end up being distributed under the rules of intestacy, which may mean those you want to have benefitted from your assets may end up missing out.

To help you make sure that you get your will right, we’ve written this quick guide to help you understand the rules around who can and cannot witness a will in the UK.

Why do you need witnesses for a will?

Before we go over the rules in depth, it’s worth taking the time to pause and discuss why it is that witnesses are a required part of signing a will. The purpose of having witnesses is so that there are people who verify that it’s actually you who signs the will, that you are of sound mind when you do so, and that you’re not being forced to sign.

This means that the people who witness your will can be called upon in future to verify that everything was done correctly. This may include providing sworn statements if there is a legal fight over your will. This makes it important to choose people who you trust, and also why it’s generally speaking a good idea to choose people who are likely to outlive you, as they may have to answer questions after you pass away.

How many witnesses do you need?

In England and Wales, it’s a requirement to have two independent witnesses. In Scotland, the law requires one witness or more – it’s still generally recommended to have two witnesses.

Who can witness a will?

Technically, anybody who’s 18 years or older and not blind or partially sighted can witness a will. As we’ve said, it’s a good idea to choose people who are likely to outlive you and who you trust to take their responsibility seriously. It’s generally recommended to choose people who you believe would be able to quickly and carefully provide statements and who will be capable of handling the potential legal paperwork and remain neutral should your will be called into question.

You could choose your friends, neighbours and work colleagues to witness your will – although bear in mind that there are restrictions on who you can choose, which we’ll set out below. Lawyers can witness your will, and so can GPs or specialist medical professionals. If you believe your mental capacity may be questioned after you pass away, it can be a good idea to choose a doctor to witness your will.

It’s worth bearing in mind that, while witnesses won’t generally need to see your will to sign it, in some cases they may have to. In general, the page that you and the witnesses sign is at the back of the will, so the actual content won’t be seen. However, if you make any amendments or changes to the body of the will without drafting an entirely new one, the changes themselves will need to be specifically signed, so the witnesses would then have to see some part of the content of your will.

Who can’t witness a will?

As we’ve already mentioned, people who are blind or partially sighted cannot witness a will. In addition, you can’t choose people who are beneficiaries of your will as a witness. If you do, anything left to them will fail. You also can’t use the spouse of anybody who’s a beneficiary, with the same consequences.

In general, we recommend not choosing family members to witness the will. This is because, even if they aren’t currently named as beneficiaries in the will, they may have a legitimate claim to some of your assets in the future, so that could cause problems further down the line.

Apart from that, you’ll simply need to choose people to witness your will who have the mental capacity to understand the will itself and you trust to attest to the will’s validity in the future.

Witnessing remotely due to the pandemic

The laws around signing a will require the witnesses to be physically present. However, there is currently an exemption to this due to the pandemic. This means that wills can be witnessed remotely until 31st January 2022.

Need some help with your will? Face to Face Estate Planning offer a full will writing service, giving you peace of mind that everything will be set up exactly according to your wishes. Just get in touch with us and we can guide you through the entire process with sensitivity and care.