Confessions of a Private Client Solicitor: will signing during a pandemic

  • Caroline Billings, Hatch Brenner Head of Private Client Legal Services
Caroline Billings, Hatch Brenner Solicitors

If there is a positive to be taken from the Covid-19 lockdown period, it is in the very real resourcefulness which many have shown. I have experienced this personally in my role as Head of Private Client at Hatch Brenner Solicitors in Norwich.

In line with the legal requirements of the long-standing Wills Act 1837, a will must be signed in person and witnessed to be legally valid … pandemic or not.

The Wills Act states that for your will to be legally valid, you must:

  • sign it in the presence of two witnesses who are both over 18.
  • have it signed by your two witnesses, in your presence.

Whilst initially many in the profession claimed this was too difficult to carry out in practice, in reality, many clients have adapted remarkably well and worked with us to devise innovative solutions to get around this legal hurdle during lockdown and within social distancing guidelines.

In one very memorable case, a client of mine had to throw the bundle of legal documents over her garden hedge to reach her neighbour who had agreed to be her witness. On noticing that the client still had a signature left to complete, the document bundle was duly thrown back over the hedge, and again for the third and fourth time. Needless to say, the documents were slightly ruffled when they arrived on my desk, but legal and valid all the same.

In less dramatic cases, I have driven to various parts of our fine county to witness signatures myself, either in gardens – front and back, or else in the garage or other available shelter in more inclement weather.

Clients will be waiting for me at their door – armed with their masks and gloves, and with individual pens for everyone to use, plus a table to ensure a two metre gap between the parties.

There have been plenty of laughs along the way, but also an opportunity to build relationships with our clients, and it is very satisfying to be able to move forwards with completing a will for someone during a time which has been worrying and uncertain for many.

It remains to be seen whether, in the future, the Wills Act may be reviewed and updated to allow for online or video-witnessed signatures. The government have confirmed there are currently no plans to do so, with the strict rules in place to protect the vulnerable against fraud or undue influence.

We remain willing to be flexible, adaptable and available for our clients … whatever it takes! In addition, our office is now reopen for client appointments – call 01603 660 811 to book in or you can email me at carolinebillings@hatchbrenner.co.uk.

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