In order to be valid, a will must be signed by the person making the will in the presence of each of two or more witnesses. The witnesses must see the person who is making the will actually sign the will. Alternatively, the person making the will can confirm to the two witnesses that the signature on the document is their signature.
The witnesses must be independent and cannot be a beneficiary of the estate. The Succession Act 1965 provides that if a beneficiary or their spouse or civil partner witnesses a will under which they are receiving a benefit that benefit shall be “utterly null and void”. However the will itself is still a valid will and it is only the bequest to the witness that will fail. A further consequence of a beneficiary witnessing a will is that they will have no right to take out a grant of probate.
In general wills are witnessed by solicitors and people who work in solicitors’ offices. These are familiar with the strict legal requirements for wills. Difficulties arise where homemade wills are drafted and the legal formalities are not complied with. If the will is not witnessed correctly it will not be a valid will and the wishes of the person making the will are therefore not followed.