Signing someone else’s will – is it legal?

It’s a common assumption that signing a document for someone else can’t be valid. Which may be why the recent case of Barrett -v- Bem [2011] involving a will signed by another person, is attracting attention.

The will in question was that of a very ill man who was in hospital at the time. His ill health made it physically very difficult for him to sign his name. Nevertheless a signature was made on his will  and 2 nurses acted as witnesses. The will was later challenged in court. Handwriting experts gave evidence that the signature was most unlikely to have been made by the deceased and under questioning it was admitted that his sister, the sole beneficiary, had ‘helped’ her brother to sign. The court decided that the will was invalid.

Possibly no surprises there, but infact, if the relatives had instead argued that the will had been signed by the man’s sister because he had asked her to sign it for him there might well have been a different outcome.

The law relating to signing a will anticipates that the situations in which people sometimes have to sign their wills is not always ideal and generally the courts try to find in favour of a will being valid. The 1837 Wills Act permits a will to be signed by some other person provided that the ‘signature’ is made in the presence of the person whose will it is (the Testator) and under their direction.

So the moral is clear if you want someone else to sign a will for you care must be taken to make it explicit that the other person is signing on your behalf at  your express  request. The will should record that it is being signed on behalf of the Testator at their direction and preferably a detailed record should be kept with the will of the circumstances in which the signature was made.

(Barrett-v-Bem [2011] EWHC 1247Ch)