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04th March 2019
As we have mentioned in our will writing checklist, it is very important that you have the right witnesses when signing your will. The signing of the document is the part that really matters, where you confirm that your will contains your explicit wishes that you want to be fulfilled when you die. However, if witnessed incorrectly, the entire document could be invalidated.
In this article, the IMC team take a look at the most suitable and unsuitable candidates to act as witnesses to your will. We’ll also be clarifying some commonly held misconceptions around who can act as a witness.
It is important to ask the question of who can be a witness to a will signing and, fortunately, it generally comes with a simple answer: Anybody can act as witness to the signing of your will as long as they are independent (i.e. they won’t benefit from it) and are over 18. You’ll need two witnesses who can act as reliable people who can guarantee that the will is a document outlining your wishes, especially if it is contested after you have died.
The key, however, is that your witnesses are reliable. While on paper it may seem straightforward, there are certain types of people who are particularly suitable – or particularly unsuitable – for the job.
One question that is frequently asked when it comes to will witnessing – particularly by the elderly and vulnerable – is whether a doctor or nurse can witness a will. As long as they are not beneficiaries, healthcare professionals are some of the best people to witness the signing of your will. They are trusted professionals who can also be relied upon to confirm that you were of sound mind when signing the document, making them ideal witnesses to have if your will is ever contested in court.
There is no reason that a married couple cannot act as witnesses to a will signing. While your witnesses have to be independent from you, they do not have to be independent from one another. As long as neither party making up the couple are beneficiaries, there is no harm in having a couple act as your pair of witnesses. If a trusted friend is willing to act as a witness, it may be useful for you to know that their partner would be happy to co-witness with them.
Your colleagues can also witness the signing of a will. Again, many people are unsure if colleagues would count as ‘independent witnesses’ due to the amount of time spent with them. Despite spending hours with them every day, your coworkers are still independent of you and make perfectly eligible witnesses.
One of the most common queries people have in regards to this topic is whether an executor can witness a will in the UK. One commonly held misconception is that, due to their role in administering a will, executors cannot act as witnesses. However, this is completely false as long as they are not a beneficiary.
Despite this, due to the fact that many people choose one of their beneficiaries to act as executor, they are often ineligible for the role. Of course, if that is the case, they would not be suitable, but there is nothing contradictory about having an executor act as a witness.
Even if they are excluded from the will, family members are rarely viewed as wholly independent from you. In many cases, family members will simply not be viewed as valid witnesses and could invalidate your will’s signing, leaving it open to contestation after your death. Even if your family has not coerced you in any way in regards to your will, if the document is taken to court, you won’t be able to defend it. Ultimately, it is definitely not a wise decision to ask your family to witness the signing of your will.
Even though they are not a direct beneficiary on paper, being the partner or spouse of a beneficiary does imply that they will benefit in some way from gifts given to their spouse. As such, it is not improbable to suggest that coercion could occur if they acted as a witness to your will.
There are laws in place specifically designed to prevent you from choosing the spouse of a beneficiary as a witness. If the spouse of a beneficiary is found to have witnessed a will, the witnessing remains valid, but the actual gift to the beneficiary will fail. If you want to ensure that the people that you want to benefit receive what you want them to receive, avoid having the signing witnessed by their other half.
To qualify as a witness to the signing of a will, the witness has to physically see you put pen to paper and sign the document. They need to be fully aware of what you are signing and that it is your signature on the document. As such, if they are unable to be relied upon as to having actually seen you sign the will, they would not be able to testify if the will was contested. As such, blind or partially sighted people should not act as witnesses during a will signing.
For more impartial advice on the dos and don’ts of putting together your will, get in touch with the friendly IMC team today.
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