Who Can Wit­ness a Will?

A woman sitting on the peak of a mountain
Catrin, UK Solicitor
18/03/2024 ● 4 minutes
Wit­ness­ing sounds easy, but it’s vital that it’s legal to avoid your Will being in­valid.

When set­ting up a Will, many people over­look one cru­cial aspect: Choos­ing wit­nesses.

The choice of wit­nesses for your Last Will is not a de­cision to be taken lightly, as il­lus­trated by nu­mer­ous cau­tion­ary tales that high­light the po­ten­tial pit­falls of over­sight in this crit­ical area.

Se­lect­ing the right wit­nesses is para­mount to ensure the valid­ity and en­force­ab­il­ity of your Will. Tales of Wills being con­tested or deemed in­valid due to im­prop­erly chosen wit­nesses serve as a stern re­minder of the im­port­ance of this step.

The right wit­nesses can be the dif­fer­ence between your final wishes being hon­oured or em­broiled in legal dis­putes, un­der­scor­ing the need for care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion and ad­her­ence to legal re­quire­ments in se­lect­ing in­di­vidu­als to wit­ness your Will.

Below, we’ll dis­cuss the cri­ter­ia and im­port­ance of de­term­in­ing who can wit­ness your will so that it is valid under UK law.

What is a Wit­ness for Will Sign­ings?

A wit­ness is a person who ob­serves the test­ator (the person cre­at­ing the Will) sign this im­port­ant legal doc­u­ment.

Under UK Law, two wit­nesses are re­quired to wit­ness the sign­ing of a UK Last Will in order for it to be valid.

The wit­ness­ing pro­cess is used as a safeguard to ensure the Will is signed vol­un­tar­ily and without any co­er­cion. They verify the test­ator's iden­tity and con­firm that the test­ator ap­peared to sign the Will will­ingly.

The wit­nesses may also in­dir­ectly attest to the test­ator's mental ca­pa­city by ob­serving their be­ha­viour at the time of sign­ing.

Fi­nally, the wit­nesses sign the Will them­selves, con­firm­ing that they have just duly wit­nessed the test­ator freely sign­ing their Will.

A Leg­ally Valid Last Will in 10 minutes

In the United King­dom, spe­cif­ic legal re­quire­ments for wit­nesses are laid out in vari­ous laws and reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing the Wills Act of 1837.

A Wit­ness Must:

  1. Be at Least 18 Years Old
    • To become a wit­ness in the United King­dom, you cannot be young­er than 18 years old.
  2. Have Legal Ca­pa­city
    • The wit­ness must have the mental ca­pa­city to un­der­stand what they are wit­ness­ing and be able to make sound de­cisions.
  3. Be Im­par­tial
    • A lot of people ask “Can a family member be a wit­ness to a Will?” The answer is no. A wit­ness cannot be a member of the test­ator’s family or be­ne­fit from the Will in any way (or be a close re­lat­ive of someone who does) be­cause it could raise doubts as to their ob­jectiv­ity.
  4. Not be ex­ecut­ors or trust­ees of the Will. If a wit­ness were also named as an ex­ecut­or or trustee in the Will, it could create a con­flict of in­terest. Their dual role might lead to ques­tions re­garding their im­par­ti­al­ity and could po­ten­tially un­der­mine the valid­ity of the Will. For ex­ample, they might be per­ceived as having a vested in­terest in the out­come of the Will, which could com­prom­ise their abil­ity to provide un­bi­ased wit­ness testi­mony.

The Role of Wit­nesses to Sup­port the Intent and Ca­pa­city of the Test­ator

Wit­nesses’ primary role is to be sure that they have seen the test­ator sign­ing the Will. They must also verify that the test­ator was of sound mind and not under any in­flu­ence or pres­sure while sign­ing. If any dis­pute arises con­cern­ing the valid­ity of a Will, wit­ness veri­fic­a­tion serves as proof in court.

Wit­nesses play a cru­cial role in en­sur­ing that the con­tents of Wills are prop­erly doc­u­mented and ex­ecuted. They wit­ness the test­ator's sign­ing of the Will, which serves as evid­ence that the test­ator vol­un­tar­ily signed the doc­u­ment. This helps to con­firm the au­then­ti­city of the Will and the test­ator's intent.

Read more: Joint Ex­ecut­ors of a Will

Check­list: Who Can Wit­ness a Will in the UK

Here's a table out­lining who can and who cannot wit­ness a Will in the UK:

Who Can Wit­ness a WillWho Cannot Wit­ness a Will
In­di­vidu­als over 18 years oldBe­ne­fi­ciar­ies of the Will or their spouses/part­ners
People not named as be­ne­fi­ciar­ies in the WillAnyone under 18 years old
Pro­fes­sion­al ad­visers not named as be­ne­fi­ciar­iesThe person making the Will (Test­ator/Test­atrix)
Friends or neigh­bours with no in­terest in the WillAnyone not men­tally com­pet­ent to un­der­stand the nature of wit­ness­ing

Choos­ing the cor­rect wit­nesses is cru­cial to ensure the valid­ity of the Will, avoid­ing po­ten­tial dis­putes or legal chal­lenges.

Errors in Wit­ness­ing that Could Render a Will In­valid

Choos­ing wit­nesses is a small step in the making of your Will, but if you don’t do it right, it can have sig­ni­fic­ant con­sequences.

Common Errors in Choos­ing Wit­nesses

  • Use of Minors as Wit­nesses: Under United King­dom law, in­di­vidu­als under the age of 18 are not al­lowed to wit­ness Wills.
  • Choos­ing Be­ne­fi­ciar­ies as Wit­nesses: So can a be­ne­fi­ciary wit­ness a Will? The answer is no. This could have a det­ri­mental effect on their im­par­ti­al­ity, lead­ing to doubts as to whet­h­er the Will is valid.
  • Having Only One Wit­ness: If it’s not just one, how many wit­nesses are needed for a Will? In ac­cord­ance with the 1837 Wills Act, a Will needs to be signed by two wit­nesses before it can take effect.
  • Failure to Ensure that Both Wit­nesses are Present During the Sign­ing: During the Will sign­ing pro­cess, all wit­nesses must be present with the test­ator.
  • The wit­nesses should not be mem­bers of your family. Under UK Law wit­nesses cannot be a member of your family. By pro­hib­it­ing family mem­bers from serving as wit­nesses, the law aims to pre­vent po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­terest or undue in­flu­ence that could arise.
  • The wit­nesses should not be the ex­ecut­ors or trust­ees of your Will. Having a wit­ness who is also named as an ex­ecut­or or trustee in the Will cre­ates a con­flict of in­terest. This dual role may raise doubts about their im­par­ti­al­ity and could un­der­mine the valid­ity of the Will.

Wit­ness­ing Wills is not just about form­al­it­ies - it’s a very im­port­ant matter of law. To ensure the au­then­ti­city and valid­ity of a Will, wit­nesses should be im­par­tial and at­tentive to the ca­pa­city and in­ten­tions of the test­ator.

The se­lec­tion of wit­nesses, in ac­cord­ance with ap­plic­able le­gis­la­tion, must be car­ried out to the best of your abil­ity. In doing so, you ensure that your final wishes are re­spec­ted.

Are you pre­pared to draw up a leg­ally bind­ing Will? User-friendly legal web ser­vice Aatos can help you with this and so much more.

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