Expert tips for witnessing Wills while social distancing
21 April 2020
The coronavirus crisis has led to an increase in the number of people making Wills, but strict signing requirements combined with social distancing rules mean Australians need to find new ways to get their Wills witnessed.
In Australia, a valid Will must be signed by the Will maker in the presence of two witnesses, but bans on social gatherings of more than two people in many states have made it difficult for people to make a valid Will.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, which has seen a 38 per cent increase in Wills inquiries this year compared to last year, is advising Will makers of their options for signing and witnessing options during the lockdown.
Andrew Simpson, head of the firm’s Wills and Estates practice, said while social distancing rules are in place, witnessing options for people making a Will include:
Two colleagues, if you are still attending a workplace outside your home
Two people you encounter as part of an allowable activity, such as attending a medical appointment
Two visitors to your home, where guests are permitted or when they are visiting to provide care or drop off essential supplies
Two adults in your household, such as housemates and family members (although some states prohibit beneficiaries of a Will from being a witness)
Mr Simpson said governments could also assist Will makers by allowing a more flexible approach to the witnessing of Wills during the pandemic lockdown.
“The rigour around the signing of Wills reflects the importance of a Will, but it may be that we need to introduce some short-term solutions during the health crisis,” he said.
“A move to allow more virtual witnessing and a temporary relaxation of the rule that prevents beneficiaries from being a witness to a Will are two measures that would help Australians produce a valid Will during the pandemic.”
Mr Simpson said a properly witnessed and valid Will would avoid the cost and uncertainty of someone trying to prove an invalid Will after your death.
“But always use common sense, and make sure you’re not putting yourself or others at risk of breaking the law or spreading disease.”