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4 May 2020

How to: Sign a Will during the Covid-19 pandemic

What you need to know about signing a will during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown
Can I sign a Will during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Yes.  During the lockdown we have been contacted by a number of our clients wanting to make new wills.  For some, signing their new will is urgent and because of the challenges around witnessing, the Government has made a temporary law change to modify the requirements for signing and witnessing wills under section 11 of the Wills Act 2007 (Act).  This temporary change remains in place while the Covid-19 Pandemic Notice is in force.
 
What does the temporary change mean?
The change allows wills to be signed and witnessed using audio-visual links (for example, ZOOM, Skype, Messenger, Facetime, etc).  This means that the will-maker and witnesses can witness each other signing by the audio-visual link.  Once signed, the will-maker and the witnesses will each send a photograph or scan of the signed copies to a person who has been chosen to hold the document and all scans of signed copies of the will.  Typically we would arrange for two of our staff to be witnesses and would hold the copies once signed.
 
What if I cannot arrange an audio-visual link?
Section 14 of the Act permits the High Court (Court) to declare wills that do not meet the validity requirements set out in the Act to be valid as long as the Court is satisfied that the document expresses the deceased person’s intention.  Therefore signing and dating a will and declaring the will to be your last wishes, although not witnessed, is likely to be grounds for the Court to uphold the same as your last will.  In this instance the will should be correctly signed as soon as the Pandemic Notice is lifted.
 
What happens if I die without a will?
If you die without having made a will, then you are considered “intestate”.  This means that your estate will be distributed in accordance with the Administration Act 1969 which has default positions as to distribution depending on your circumstances.  In most cases the default position will not be what your intention may be.  It is for this reason that it is important to have a will so you can ensure your assets are left to the people you want to benefit.
 
Can Saunders Robinson Brown help?
While the Pandemic Notice is in place, we are working as normal, albeit from our homes.  We can take your instructions by email or phone and prepare a will for you to consider.  We can assist in signing any urgent will now or arrange to meet and sign once it is safe to do so.
 
DISCLAIMER
The above information is of a general nature only. The information contained in this document does in no way constitute legal advice and all readers should contact a law firm for advice relating to your specific circumstances.
William Brown

About William Brown

Bill is a senior partner of Saunders Robinson Brown. He has been practising law for more than 40 years and specialises in commercial law, trusts, estate planning and rural law.

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