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Contesting a will: Does a Will need to be signed?

View profile for Laura Pracy
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For a Will to be validly recognised in England and Wales, it must be signed in front of two independent witnesses, who print and sign their names, this aids when resolving probate disputes. While this requirement has been a long-recognised rule of the law, and is broadly accepted and enforced daily, the relevance and necessity of this law was recently brought into question. 

This was a question considered in further detail by the Court of Appeal in the case of Payne v Payne [2018] EWCA Civ 985. This case was brought by a widow whose late husband had written a Will shortly after their marriage, (‘the 1998 Will’), leaving his entire estate to her; however, after his death, a more recent Will (‘the 2012’ Will’) was discovered, which indicated that he wished to leave the near-entirety of his estate to one of his sons. The widow claimed that the 2012 Will was not correctly executed and was not valid. The Judge concluded that both the 1998 and 2012 Wills were not valid and the estate was to be distributed under the intestacy rules.

Who wins the Will dispute?

The 1998 Will was considered invalid as it was not considered to be witnessed properly as the witnesses had only printed their names and they hadn’t ‘signed’ the will. The second Will had been witnessed by his grandson’s girlfriend and her mother but the evidence provided as to its validity was found to be ‘utterly unreliable’

On Appeal, the presence of two witnesses and their ability to recall the creation of the  1998 Will and give statements as to this fact, led the Court of Appeal to accept that the first Will was valid. The witnesses had only printed their name as opposed to printing and signing as normally required, but this was considered sufficient by the Court of Appeal as the law did not require a ‘signature’.

Generally, it is encouraged that witnesses are independent, in order to avoid claims that those whose witness it is were pressured into its creation.

This case has highlighted that evidence from the attesting witnesses to a Will is most significant, and their signing of the Will can be considered more of a formality. The absence of the signature did not prove detrimental, as printing a name was considered sufficient for the purpose. Regarding the absence of the witnesses’ signatures on the first Will, the Court did state that though it was sufficient in the circumstances, a formal signature would reduce the likelihood of the Will being challenged.

If you require assistance with matters such as contesting a Will, inheritance disputes or any other matter of contentious probate, you can contact Laura Pracy on 0161 785 3500 at your earliest convenience.

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers LLP or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

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