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Getting valid witness signatures during lockdown

The implementation of the social distancing rules by the Government has posed many new and unforeseen challenges. One such challenge is the execution of documents where we cannot meet our clients face to face. This could be for anything from a statutory declaration through to witnessing a will.

So what does this mean in practice and how does it affect you?

Firstly, there has been a change in market practice and in some cases updated guidance (see below). However, we recommend speaking to one of our solicitors to discuss your circumstances and establish the most effective way of validating the document.

Recent updates / market practice:

Identity of witness
In some cases, we have seen a relaxation in the common market practice which involves a witness being independent. During the lockdown period it may be the only option to have documents witnessed by a family member. Whilst this does not contravene legislation it may pose future evidential risks and therefore, any decision to use a family member of a witness should be taken with caution and should be approved by the other party in advance.

Alternative approaches
These could be to witness a document at distance, or to use an online video conference tool such as Zoom, however, it is worth noting that there is uncertainty as to the validity of a document if it has been signed and witnessed in this way.

Insolvency statutory declarations
These can be validly declared by video conference provided that the wording of the declaration is amended to record that the declaration has been made by video conference

The Land Registry
They have recently confirmed that they require signatures to continue to be witnessed in person (not by video call) with a wet signature. It has however been confirmed that they will accept deeds signed using the “Mercury signing approach” which allows an electronic copy of the signed signature page to be sent to the solicitors who will then compile a final agreed copy of the deed.

Execution of wills
The law requires a testator to execute a will in the presence of two witnesses who then sign and execute, all in each other’s presence at that time. If this is not done correctly then this will render the will invalid. There have been no changes in the law in this respect and there does not appear to be any on the horizon.

We are used to dealing with such challenges and have the resources available to ensure your documents are witnessed legally, as well as safely. Call us on 0113 849 4000 or email law@schofieldsweeney.co.uk we’ll look at your situation and advise you on the best course of action.