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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Wills and coronavirus

In this section you'll find information and updates related to coronavirus that are relevant to the law on wills.

The UK's response to coronavirus is changing regularly and often very quickly. While we'll continue to make every effort to keep this page up to date, there may be short periods where what you read here is not the latest information available. Where possible we've tried to provide links to official sources, so you can check the current situation.

Inheritance tax

On 9 April 2020, HMRC announced a number of process changes as a result of the pandemic, including payment of inheritance tax and signing the related forms.

Signing wills

Social distancing rules and restrictions on movement have made it difficult to follow the strict rules that are in place for signing wills.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Witnesses, in all likelihood, must be physically present. Witnessing the signing of a will via a video call (e.g. Skype, Zoom, Facetime, etc) is not generally thought to be acceptable.

Also, the witnesses must not include anyone who is a beneficiary of the will, or their spouse or civil partner. That means members of the same household are unlikely to be able to witness a will.

Provided everyone remains a suitable distance apart and is present for as short a time as possible, it may be possible to get a will signed while following social distancing requirements. Crucially, the person making a will and the witnesses must all be present and be able to see each other sign. This may be possible through a window, for example.

You should consider extra precautions, such as:

  • each party using their own pen;
  • wearing disposable gloves; and
  • placing the signed will in a sealed bag and leaving it in an undisturbed place for, say, 72 hours (it is not thought that the virus can survive on paper for longer than this).

Of course, all of the other recommendations such as avoiding touching your face and washing hands as soon as possible should be followed.

Consider filming the signing of the will if possible, to avoid any possible disagreements later. You may also want to think about re-signing the will once social distancing requirements are lifted, where this is appropriate.

Scotland

The position is slightly different in Scotland.

A will is formally valid if signed by the person making it. Witnesses are not required for a will to be formally valid. Witnessing is required for a will to be 'self-evidencing'. In most cases a will should be self-evidencing or confirmation to your estate won't be granted (in other words, it could make things more difficult for your executors after you've died).

If you can arrange for a suitable witness to be physically present when you sign your will, you can apply the suggestions above (under England, Wales and Northern Ireland).

If you can't arrange for a suitable witness to be physically present, then, unlike in the rest of the UK, you're allowed to use any form of video call:

1. While on the video call, sign the will on each page, including the last page, making sure that the witness can see you do this.

2. Send the will to the witness, so that they can sign it and add the relevant information (i.e., their full name and address, and the place and date of signing).

If, however, you cannot find a suitable person to be a witness, and you cannot access any form of video call, then you can just sign and date the will. This will still result in a valid will – it just won't be self-evidencing. If you do this, you should sign a replacement, fresh copy of the will with witnesses as soon as possible after self-isolation and social-distancing measures have been lifted, so you can make it self-evidencing.

Wills and capacity

Sometimes, there might disputes about a person's mental capacity to make a will. These can be avoided or the risk reduced if a medical practitioner confirms that the person has the requisite capacity and, at the same time, makes a record of their examination and findings.

However, even before the pandemic, it was not always easy to find a medical practitioner to provide a report on testamentary capacity. Now it is likely to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, given the enormous pressure on the NHS, although a remote assessment may be a more likely prospect than one face-to-face. There are private providers that can conduct remote assessments at a cost.

There is no answer to this; it is simply a risk factor that should be noted and another reason, perhaps, why you should think about re-signing the will once social distancing requirements are lifted. Ultimately, it is likely to be better to make the will than not to do so.

What is the law guide

The Desktop Lawyer law guide aims to present the law to you in a comprehensive yet jargon-free and easy-to-read format. Our law guide is constantly kept up to date with changes in business and family law by our team of in house solicitors, and includes information across all the legal jurisdictions in the UK.

Our law guide is free to use. Where we provide documents related to this area of law, or where they may help you with any legal issue in this area, they will be listed to the right of this message.