How To Write Your Own Will
Your will must be made in writing
Your will can be in any form of writing, handwritten, typed or printed, and in any language, but it must be in writing and any other expression of your wishes will not be effective. Oral expressions of your wishes and wills recorded on sound-tapes or videotapes are therefore not valid wills.
Your will should be written legibly because what cannot be read cannot be enforced. You do not necessarily have to write out the will yourself but if a beneficiary writes out the will by hand for you, suspicions might arise as to whether or not you knew of and approved of the contents of the will when you signed it and it could be challenged.
Your will can be written on any material, on paper, parchment, linen or carved in stone if you wish. Certain stationers sell 'will forms' upon which the basic parts of a will are pre-printed and on which you only have to fill in the blanks, but for some reason or another people always seem to have difficulty in filling them in correctly.
As in all other matters relating to wills, when considering the material upon which your will is to be written, it is better to keep it simple and use a blank sheet of good quality paper because with good luck and a healthy lifestyle it will be many years before your will will be required to be proved! If you use ink, use permanent ink. Although to do so would not make your will invalid, for reasons of security do not use pencil or a writing media which can be easily erased. Not everyone is honest in financial matters!
Your will must be signed by you or someone in your presence and at you request
The signature need not be your full name or indeed your name at all as long as a court will be satisfied that the mark which is made was intended as your signature and that it was intended to authenticate the document as your will. Solicitors often tell clients to sign their will in the same way as they would sign their cheques on the basis that if the mark intended as a signature can extract money from their bank account it can do anything! An inked thumbprint has been held by a court to be a sufficient signature, as has the testator's initials impressed by his seal, but the courts have not yet accepted electronic signatures and it is best to keep it simple and avoid courts rather than tempt fate by using such esoteric forms of authentication.
In whatever way your will is signed, it must either be done by you personally or by someone for you, at your direction and in your presence. To avoid problems, you should always sign your will personally or at least make a mark as your signature if you possibly can. If you are physically unable to sign or make your mark, e.g. because of paralysis or because you are blind, you can ask someone to sign the will for you as your will but they must do so in your presence and in the presence of the required witnesses.
Your Signature on the Will Must Be Made or Acknowledged By You in the Presence of Two or More Witnesses Who Must be PRESENT AT THE SAME TIME If all the witnesses to your will are not with you when the will is signed, you must confirm to them that the signature is yours and all the witnesses must be there when you do so. It is not sufficient for you to confirm it to each witness on separate occasions or for you to sign in the presence of one or more witnesses when the others are not there and subsequently to confirm the signature to the absent witness or witnesses.
Although the Wills Act 1837 refers to two or more witnesses it is only necessary and usual to have two witnesses to your signature, but they must be of age and mentally capable.
Each witness must sigh the will and either sign of acknowledge his signature in your presence
You must be present when the witness signs or acknowledges his signature, but there is no necessity for each witness to be present when the other witness signs.
It must be apparent that you intend to give effect to the will by signing it
In practice your signature and those of the witnesses should appear at the end of the will to show that they are intended to give effect as your will to all that goes before the signatures. If words appear in the will after the signatures there can be problems in that the Probate Registry will insist on the witnesses swearing an affidavit or making an affirmation to confirm that the words were in your will when it was signed and not added later by you or by anyone else and the witnesses might not then be alive, traceable or able to recollect. If the words were added later, of course, they would be ineffective and invalid and would not be admitted to probate.
If there are more pages than one it is as well for yourself and the witnesses to also sign at the bottom of each page so that nothing can be added later to the page and for the pages to be numbered so that no further pages can be inserted.
It is usual to indicate in the wording of the will that the document is signed as your last will.
A few general words on the subject of signing the will and witnesses
The witnesses are witnessing your signature. It follows therefore that you must sign first or there will be nothing for them to witness. The witnesses must be in a position to see you sign, not blind and their view must not be obscured. The witnesses need not know the contents of the will or even that it is a will, because it is your signature that they are witnessing and not the document.
When are you and the witness in each other's presence? When each can see what the other is doing, even if you are not in the same room.
All the above requirements as to the witnessing of wills might seem complicated but if you ensure that:
- yourself and two adult witnesses are all present in the same room before any signing begins
- the witnesses are not blind
- the witnesses are not beneficiaries or the executors of the will or the spouse or civil partner of any beneficiary or executor (if they are the will will be valid but the beneficiary will lose the bequest and the executor possibly his right to expenses unless specifically authorised to charge them or the will is an informal military one or a seaman's will made at sea)
- the witnesses are likely to be traceable if required when you die
- you sign first followed by each witness
- each witness signs with his usual signature and follows it by his printed name and his address and occupation or status (married woman, widow, etc.)
- no one leaves the room before the signing is complete there should be no problem.