When making a Will in England or Wales, you need to sign it in front of two independent witnesses in order for the Will to be legally valid. There are rules around who is and isn't allowed to witness a Will, as we explain.
Who Should Not Witness Your Will?
The purpose of having two individuals witness the signing of your Will is so that they can testify to the circumstances around the execution of the Will if it's ever called into question after you die. This is why it's essential to have appropriate witnesses who, if required, could give credible evidence. For example, a witnesses should be someone who is a competent and independent adult.
Interestingly the actual laws around who can or can't act as your witness are fairly relaxed, in that it won't invalidate your Will. But if you choose a witness who is not entirely appropriate, then your Will is far less likely to hold up in Court if it's challenged after your death.
We would always advise that the following people do not witness your Will:
- Your husband/wife or civil partner
- Any other family members
- Any of your Beneficiaries (the people you intend to inherit from your Estate)
- The husband/wife or civil partner of your Beneficiaries
- Anyone under the age of 18 years of age
- Anyone who is blind or partially sighted
- Anyone who does not have sufficient mental capacity to understand what they are witnessing
If any of the above are witnesses to your Will, it could cause problems after you pass away. For instance, the law states that if a witness of the Will or their spouse is named as a beneficiary of the Will, then the law provides that the witnessing remains valid but the actual gift to the witness (or their spouse) fails.
So, for example, say you leave £1,000 to your friend Lucia in your Will. You then ask Lucia to witness your Will for you. After your death, your Will would remain valid, but Lucia would no longer be entitled to receive the £1,000 you had intended to leave her.
The independence of the witnesses is key because otherwise it could be claimed that you were placed under pressure to sign the Will.
A witness must also be able to watch you sign the Will and see that it is your signature. If anyone challenges the Will after you die, the witnesses may be called upon to give evidence to confirm that you did indeed sign your Will, and that you did so willingly. It's for this practical reason that people who are blind or partially sighted should not be witnesses.
Who to Choose to Witness Your Will?
As family members and Beneficiaries aren't considered to be independent, you might feel like there aren't many options of who to ask to witness your Will. But anyone else you know who isn't a relative or a Beneficiary can be a witness, such as a friend, neighbour or colleague.
When making a Will you'll need to choose Executors who will administer your Estate after you die. An Executor can be a witness of your Will, just as long as neither they nor their spouse are a Beneficiary.
You could also ask your GP to be a witness. This is particularly advisable if you could be considered as a vulnerable individual and your own mental capacity could be questioned. This could be due to old age, an illness you're suffering from, or medication you're taking. Having a GP witness your Will helps rebut a later allegation that you were not of sound mind when you signed your Will or that you did not understand what you were signing.
Remember that whoever you choose, both witnesses must be present when you sign your Will. Therefore you'll need to find a time when your witnesses are both available to attend. Your witnesses will then need to sign the Will in your presence. Ideally you should all remain in the same room and watch each other while this takes place.