How to sign and execute a last will and testament
Time needed: 10 minutes.
Until you sign a paper copy of your will in front of witnesses (also known as “executing the will”) it isn’t legally binding. Signing the will in front of witnesses does the following : (a) it shows that you intended this version of the will to be the official one; (b) it reduces fraud: someone can’t just forge your signature – your witnesses need to see you do it; and (c) it complies with all of the legal requirements set out in law.
- Print the will
For a will to be legal it must be printed out in a hard copy. A legible hand written will in ink is also acceptable. Make sure that the will is on good quality paper that will stand the test of time. Once you’ve printed it, bind all of the sheets of paper together. A staple will do. Do not pull the will apart or add anything to it once you’ve done this. Never staple, paperclip, stick or attach anything else to the will
- Find two independent, adult witnesses
The will needs to be witnessed by two people. The people you choose should be reliable, contactable in the future, and make sure that they are not beneficiaries under the will (or relatives/ partners of beneficiaries). If a witness could benefit under the will then any gifts benefiting them will be void. People often use friends, colleagues, neighbours or professionals (e.g. doctors/ solicitors).
The witnesses will need to be in the same place as you when you sign, so don’t choose people where this could be a problem (e.g. non-locals or sworn enemies).
- Sign and date the will in front of the two witnesses
Sign the will with your full signature in front of the witnesses and make sure they see you do this. They do not need to read the will (in almost all cases it’s better if they don’t). If the will is on more than one sheet of paper you should initial each sheet to show that nobody has added any pages to the will at a later date. Make sure that your signature and the date are clear and in permanent ink.
- Witnesses sign, print their names and enter their addesses on the will
Once the witnesses have seen you sign and date the will they should also sign, print their full name and their full addresses on the will. They should see each other sign the will as well as you signing it. This is a legal requirement and a will could be challenged if this didn’t happen. It’s really important that the names and addresses of the witnesses are clear and legible. In fact, the printed names and addresses are more important than the actual signature. If the will is challenged the witnesses could be asked to give evidence.
As with your signature, if there is more than one page the witnesses should initial each page next to your initials.
If there are any amendments or crossings out on the original will you really should fix the errors on the computer and print it out again and start the process all over. We realise that in very extreme cases (e.g. if you are about to go to hospital) this is not always possible. A will that has any corrections or other marks on it could be challenged in future. If it is absolutely unavoidable, you should make sure that any amends are done before you sign the will, initial the amends in front of the witnesses and ask the witnesses to initial the amends too.
- Put the will somewhere safe
Once the will has been signed, dated and witnessed it becomes fully legal. However, if something happens to the will this can give rise to all sorts of issues. Please see our guide on how to store a will to make sure that the will can be easily and safely accessed when the time comes.
Executing whilst self-isolating
During lockdown or periods of self-isolation it is still possible to execute your will. Please ensure that you and the witnesses are kept safe at all times. Take all sensible precautions e.g. using separate pens, keeping socially distanced, wearing appropriate PPE (but ensure that the witnesses can positively identify you by seeing your face whilst maintaining social distancing).
Other ways of executing a will whilst self isolating can include:
1. Signing a will whilst maintaining social distance e.g. in a park or boundary to your property. Sign and date the will where the witnesses can see you, then retreat a safe distance from the will whilst the witnesses also sign and enter their details.
2. Signing in a car. Sign and date the will with the witnesses watching through the windscreen. You can then place the will on the bonnet or roof via the window. The witnesses can then sign and enter their details.
3. Signing through a ground floor window at your property. Your witnesses can see you through the window as per the car example and you can pass your will through the window and leave it on the window-sill.
It is possible to witness a will remotely via video conference (click the link to see this article) but this should be done only as an absolute last resort.
However you choose to proceed: your safety and the safety of your witnesses are paramount. Ensure that you take all reasonable precautions including (but not limited to) wearing PPE where appropriate. Sanitising surfaces. Using separate pens. Keeping socially distanced. Complying with any tier-specific requirements, recommendations and best practices.