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How to witness a will

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Witnessing a will might sound straightforward, but in order for it to be legally binding, you’ll need to follow the correct procedures. So to give you peace of mind, we’ve put together a guide to explain who can sign and witness a will.

Who can witness a will?

Anyone 18 years and over can witness or sign a will, but importantly, a beneficiary can’t witness a will, and neither can their spouse or civil partner. In many cases, people will ask a friend or work colleague to sign and witness the will. Traditionally, the law required witnesses to be physically present when witnessing the will, but as we’ll explain later, new legislation has made it possible to witness a will virtually until 31st January 2024.

There are some differences regarding who can witness a will across the UK. For example, in England and Wales, you will need two independent witnesses, whereas the law in Scotland simply requires one witness or more.

Who cannot witness a will?

Aside from beneficiaries and their spouse or civil partner, you can’t witness a will if you’re blind or partially sighted. This is because the witness needs to physically see the act of putting pen to paper, and be aware of what the document entails. It’s also inadvisable to let any family member sign the will, even if they’re not a named beneficiary at the time of writing the document, in case they have a legitimate claim to be a residuary beneficiary in the future. Your witness should also have the mental capacity to understand the will.

Why do you need witnesses for a will?

Witnessing a will isn’t simply a legal obligation. It means that should the will ever be called into question after you die, you will have at least one credible witness who can testify that the will was signed and witnessed properly.

Is a will invalid if a witness dies?

If a witness to your will dies before you, the will remains valid, but complications could arise. For example, when your executors apply for probate, they may need to provide proof that the witness has died, and that their signatures were valid. To be safe, if a witness dies you may wish to write a new will or have it witnessed again by someone else.

Virtual will witnessing

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Wills Act 1837 was amended so that witnessing a will using video-conferencing technology has become lawful. The UK government advises that people should continue to use physical witnesses where possible, but for those shielding or self-isolating due to the pandemic, witnessing a will virtually is now admissible. The legislation applies retrospectively to any wills made since January 1st 2020, and is designed to be in force for two years subsequent to this date, but may be extended or shortened depending on the public health guidelines. The law also applies to codicils, which follow the same criteria as when writing a will, such as having two independent witnesses.

How to witness a will virtually

While the context for introducing virtual wills is understandable, how exactly do you witness a will when you’re not in the room? Here is a summary of the official UK guidance.

  • The will must be signed in real-time – Pre-recorded videos are not permissible, so the witnesses will need to watch the document being signed through a live-action video link.
  • The witnesses must have a ‘clear line of sight’ – While there are no instructions on which video-conferencing platform to use, the witnesses must have a clear view of the signature being written, and of the document itself.
  • The will maker must be visible – The witnesses must, by law, see the will maker as they sign the will. If the witness has never met the will maker, they should verify their identity by asking to see a passport of driving license picture.
  • The will maker should express their intentions – In order to prove they have ‘testamentary capacity’, the will maker should address the camera before the will is signed. The following wording is suggested: ‘I (first name, surname), wish to make a will of my own free will and sign it here before these witnesses, who are witnessing me doing this remotely’.

Can you sign a will virtually?

E-signatures are not permitted under the new legislation, so after the first video is made, the will must be taken to the witnesses – ideally within 24 hours – and they should sign the document with a ‘wet signature’, in the virtual presence of the will maker. According to the official guidance, it is preferred, but not essential, that the two witnesses are physically in the same room.

Learn more about how to write a will

Ultimately, writing a will and getting it signed and witnessed correctly means peace of mind for you and your loved ones. For further information, read more about how to write a will and explore our expert articles and guides.

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If you’ve written out your wishes for your estate and you’re at the final stage of making a Last Will & Testament, signing a Will is the last thing you need to do before it becomes a legal document. If you haven’t got to that step just yet, you can make a Will using our free online Will builder here.

To speak with our team of estate planning experts at any stage, call (03) 9917 3388.

The legal formalities to make a valid Will must be followed closely. This article explains exactly what needs to happen when signing a Will, before it can become a valid legal document in Australia. We will also explain who can witness the signing of a Will and what’s required.

Witnessing your Will

After you have finished filling out your Will, it must be printed (if filled out online), then signed. Signing the Will correctly is vital to ensure it is valid.

A Will is not legally valid in Australia unless it’s signed by the Will-maker (testator) in the presence of two independent adult witnesses. Both witnesses MUST be present at the same time the Will-maker signs the document, as it’s their job to formally witnesses the event of signing. Consequently, a Will is not a legal document if it’s unsigned, or if there is only one witness.

Most commonly, the Will-maker will write their Will when the witnesses are not present. But you must not date or sign the document until both of the witnesses are present and are watching you do so. However, the witnesses do not need to know the contents of the Will in order to sign it. In addition, a witness doesn’t even need to know that the document is a Will!

How to sign your Will

In the presence of your two witnesses, insert the current date on the designated place in your Will.

The three of you must watch each other sign the Will, using the same pen. Use the same black or dark blue pen and take turns signing and filling in the details.

It is common for a Will to be longer than one page, therefore any subsequent pages must be signed and witnessed in the same way as the first page of your Will – and by the same witnesses – or they will not be considered part of the legal document. Signing each page of the Will is extremely important, to ensure absolute certainty that extra pages have not been inserted, removed or replaced later.

The witnesses need to sign on the bottom of each page and on the execution page of the Will where indicated. On the execution page, each witness must print their full name, address and occupation beneath their signature.

Aside from not having a witness sign the document, the Will-maker can sometimes pass away without themselves having finalised and signed it. If it’s not signed, it’s simply not valid. So ensure you don’t forget this vital step.

When making a Will, it doesn’t become a valid document unless it’s signed by the Will-maker and two witnesses.

Who can be a witness to signing your Will?

You don’t need anyone official, like a Justice of the Peace (JP), to witness signing your Will.

Witnesses must be over 18 years of age, mentally competent and be able to see the Willmaker sign the Will.

Who can’t be a witness to signing your Will?

As mentioned above, any adult with full mental capacity may be witness to your Will, however there are some exceptions.

A witness should be independent from you. That is a witness should not be an executor or beneficiary under the Will or related to you or any executor of the Will or beneficiary under the Will. This is often the case with spouses or partners. It’s safest to have someone else witness your Will.

In some Australian states and territories, a ‘witness-beneficiary rule’ applies. This is where a beneficiary cannot be a witness, otherwise they will be disqualified from receiving their gift in the Will. The same goes for their spouse or partner.

Although some Australian states permit beneficiaries to also be witnesses, choosing someone else to witness ensures impartiality. This is important when it comes to Wills, particularly if it is contested in court. So having someone who is not a beneficiary witness your Will protects them from accusations of undue influence.

If you are uncertain, seek legal advice. To speak with our team of estate planning experts at any stage, call (03) 9917 3388.

Why is witnessing a Will so important?

If a Will is contested in court, the signing and witnessing process may be questioned, so the Will may be deemed invalid if the correct process has not been followed.

In the event that the validity of your Will is challenged after your death, your witnesses may be called upon in the Probate Court (a section of the Supreme Court).

Checklist for signing your Will

  • Have you read and understood your Will?
  • Do you have 2 adult witnesses to witness you sign and date your Will?
  • Have you dated the Will?
  • Have you signed each page of your Will in the presence of 2 witnesses?
  • Have both witnesses signed each page of the Will in your presence?
  • Have you stored your Will in a safe place and told your executors where your Will is stored?

Final thoughts on making a Will

No writing, markings or alterations should be made on a Will after it is signed. If there are any markings or any alterations required, it is best to amend your Will, reprint and sign your Will again. No staples, pins or paper clips should be attached to a Will.

We hope this article provides a better understanding of what’s required to witness the signing of a Will, to ensure you make a Will that is legally valid in Australia.

To learn more, visit the Bare Law website or chat with our estate team for a free consultation, on (03) 9917 3388. Or to pre-pay your funeral, call 1800 202 901 or visit bare.com.au.

This article is not legal advice. You should speak with your solicitor or accountant for specific advice on your personal or financial situation.

Once you have created your last will and testament, you need to have it signed and witnessed. These last steps create a valid legal document. At the signing, the rules for witnesses are clear-cut and straightforward. However, you want to make sure you understand your state laws. The rules vary from state to state. Make sure you follow your state rules so that your will is valid.

Here’s what you need to know about how to witness a last will and testament.

1. Determine witness eligibility.

To be eligible to witness a will, you must meet some basic eligibility requirements. For example, you must be over 18 years of age. Additionally, most states require two witnesses to sign a will. In Vermont, three witnesses must sign a will.

Most states require that the witnesses must first watch the testator—the person who made the will—sign it before they sign the document. Some states permit witnesses to sign at a later time as long as the will is valid. However, as a best practice to avoid any challenges in probate court, you should have the testator and the witnesses sign at the same time.

2. See if any witnesses are interested witnesses.

Make sure that witnesses are “disinterested,” meaning that they aren’t eligible to inherit property under the will. Depending upon an individual state’s law, if a disinterested witness signs a will, it could void the entire document.

Some states do allow interested witnesses to sign a will. However, typically an additional disinterested witness must sign as well, bringing the witness total to three. Check your state law to determine when and how interested witnesses may sign a will.

3. Check for a self-proving affidavit requirement.

Witness signatures don’t typically have to be notarized. However, the will may contain a self-proving affidavit requirement. A self-proving affidavit is a legal document that accompanies a will, serving as a sworn statement authenticating the will. Both (or all three) witnesses sign the affidavit under a penalty of perjury certifying that they witnessed the testator sign the will. This affidavit is notarized.

A self-proving affidavit provides an additional layer of security in case a family member questions the will after the testator’s death. By having this affidavit, your witnesses won’t have to appear in probate court to confirm the validity of the will.

You shouldn’t leave the drafting of your will undone. Wills are essential documents and confirming their validity is critical to ensuring a smooth transition upon the testator’s death. Additionally, creating a valid will is vital to ensuring that your wishes are carried out upon your death. You may have questions about drafting a will or establishing an estate plan. If you do, you should consult with an attorney or use an online service provider for assistance or guidance. By seeking legal advice, you can assure yourself that you’ve provided for your family in the event of your death.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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.