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Executing a will

Once you've made your will, you need to follow some rules about how to sign and formalise it. You have to stick to these rules, otherwise, your will won't be valid.
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There are certain formal procedures that you have to follow to make your will legally valid. If your will is invalid, your estate may not pass as you intend. In England and Wales, the execution of your Will involves three people: you and two witnesses. You must all be present throughout the process. 

In Scotland, the execution of your Will involves two people: you and one witness. You must both be present throughout the process.

England and Wales

In September 2020, the government made remote witnessing of wills legal amidst the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This provision currently applies to people who are isolating due to COVID-19 or another vulnerability.

  • the change has been backdated to 31 January 2020. This means that any will witnessed remotely from that date onwards will be legal 

  • the change has been extended and will remain in place until January 2024

  • the use of video technology should remain a last resort - you must continue to arrange physical witnessing of wills where it is safe to do so 

  • when witnessing via video-link, the sound and quality of the video should be sufficient for a viewer to see clearly what is happening

Witnesses must meet all the criteria below in England and Wales:

  • they must be over 18

  • they cannot be an executor or beneficiary of your will

  • they cannot be related to you or anyone mentioned in your will either by blood, marriage or civil partnership

Preferably your witnesses should be your age or younger to make it more likely that they will be alive at your death, in case they are required to give evidence about the signing of your will. Your witnesses may be related to each other. Before signing your will, you should read it through carefully again. It is not necessary for your witnesses to read your will, although they should be made aware that it is your will they are witnessing.

Scotland

Witnesses must meet all the criteria below in Scotland:

  • they must be over 16

  • they must have credible information of the testator’s identity (at the time of signing)

  • they cannot be blind

  • they cannot be illiterate (ie they must be able to write their own name)

England, Wales and Scotland

Preferably your witnesses (or witness in Scotland) should be your age or younger to make it more likely that they will be alive at your death, in case they are required to give evidence about the signing of your will. Your witnesses may be related to each other (this is not applicable in Scotland as you only need one witness). Before signing your will, you should read it through carefully again. It is not necessary for your witnesses (or witness in Scotland) to read your will, although they should be made aware that it is your will they are witnessing.

England and Wales

Currently, in the presence of your two witnesses and in the spaces provided, you should:

  1. date the document (eg 'the 6th day of June 2012')

  2. sign your name using your 'usual' signature where indicated whilst your witnesses watch

  3. ask your two witnesses to add, in your presence, their 'usual' signatures where indicated, asking them to print their names, addresses and occupations clearly for identification purposes

From September 2020, you will be able to have your will witnessed virtually over video link. You'll need to:

  1. hold the front page of the will up to the camera to show your witnesses and ensure your witnesses can actually see you writing your signature.

  2. take or send your will to your witnesses to sign, ideally within 24 hours. Electronic signatures will not suffice

  3. ask the witnesses to hold up the will to show you that they are signing it. This session should be recorded if possible.

Electronic signatures will not be permitted.

Scotland

In the presence of your witness and in the spaces provided, you should:

  1. date the document (eg ‘the 6th day of June 2012’)
  2. sign every page of the will using your ‘usual signature’ while your witness watches
  3. sign your name using your 'usual' signature where indicated whilst your witness watches
  4. ask your witness to add, in your presence, their ‘usual’ signatures where indicated, asking them to print their names, addresses and occupations clearly for identification purposes

England, Wales and Scotland

No alterations should be made after your Last will and testament is signed.

It is important that you review your will and amend it to reflect any substantial or many changes in your life. You should review your will if:

  • someone named in your will dies
  • you have children or grandchildren
  • you get married (as marriage revokes a will in England and Wales), or
  • you get divorced

This list is not exhaustive and any minor or substantial change should be accounted for. For further information, read Reasons to make a will. If you make substantial changes to your will you may need to execute it again as a new document.

Many other changes can happen, such as a change of address, marriage or divorce or a change in financial circumstances. It may not be necessary to alter an original will or execute a new one. You can make small changes to your will by using a codicil.

A codicil is a legal document which makes minor, uncomplicated changes to an existing will. Creating a codicil allows you to update how you want your assets, children and other provisions to be handled after your death without needing to create a new will. A codicil needs to be signed, witnessed and executed in the same way as a will. A codicil could be used to change, for example:

  • your executors

  • the beneficiaries in your will

  • somebody’s name or address as stated in the will. 

You can use the same witnesses (or single witness in Scotland) that you used for your original will, but this is not compulsory. 

For more information on codicils and when it’s appropriate to create one, read Codicils

If you're considering making multiple or substantial changes, it might be better to write a new will. You can get a lawyer to help you change or amend  your last will and testament.

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