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When is a Will a legal document?

Wills: legal documents once they are signed and witnessed
Graham Southorn
24 August 2022

Wills become legal documents once they have been signed and witnessed. Assuming, of course, that this has been done correctly.

Unfortunately, it’s all too common for people to get only so far with writing a Wil. Then they stop before they sign anything. Some even pay for legal documents from a Will writer or solicitor.

But for one reason or another, they never sign their Wills and so they never become legal documents. In one respect, it’s understandable. Life gets in the way and it’s just one more chore of many.

However, if you haven’t signed your Will and it’s not been witnessed (this needs to be done at the same time), it is simply not valid. Until that time, your Wills are quite literally useless bits of paper. They are not legal documents.

What happens after Wills become legal documents?

The chances are that once a Will has been signed, it will sit on your shelf gathering dust until you die. Hopefully, that will be many years from now.

Although your Will is a perfectly legal document, it won’t be read until your death, at which point your executors will need to spring into action.

For that reason, it’s crucial that your executors know where your Will is and, crucially, where to find it.

The original, signed Will is the only copy that is admissible.

Sometimes a copy may be acceptable but this would have to be accompanied by evidence from witnesses that an original Will was signed at some point, even if it has since been lost.

In some circumstances, an application to admit a copy will or, even, the terms of a will recounted in the form of witness or affidavit evidence, can be made to the probate registry.

Do you really want your family to go through all this hassle? Especially when there’s a simple solution.

How will my executors find my Will?

If you’re keeping your Will at home, it’s on you. You need to keep your Will in a secure place, safe from the risk of damage from fire and flood. You also need to tell the executors of your Will where to find it.

But what if they can’t?

Sadly, there is no central register of Wills where the location of every Will is recorded. The nearest thing is The National Will Register but it’s entirely voluntary. Not every Will Writer and solicitor uses it, so it’s likely that only a small fraction of the total number of Wills are recorded there.

Even then, it only says where the Will was being stored, not where it actually is. You might be on safe grounds with a solicitor, but solicitors can go out of business or close down. Tracing client documents is difficult at best.

For all of these reasons, Maplebrook Will Writing Bristol recommends secure Will storage. For a small monthly fee, we can put your documents in a secure storage facility and register them with the National Will Register.

Both you and your executors receive paperwork to tell you exactly where the Will is, so they’ll be able to find it when the time comes.

For further advice on making a Will, request a callback and we’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

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