Individuals and businesses currently face a dilemma. We must all maintain our distance from one another, and yet many legal documents require at least two people to be "present" in order to be validly signed.
Just last year the Law Commission confirmed that electronic signatures were valid and these will help for many agreements, meaning that parties can sign without ever needing to visit their lawyers or even touch the contract.
However, documents with more stringent formal requirements could still pose difficulties. Deeds are one example, as these require the signatory to sign "in the presence" of a witness.
Individuals should think carefully about what they are comfortable doing in the current circumstances but case law suggests that witnessing through a window or some other form of barrier which allows line of sight should be sufficient.
Wills are another problem area as these require two witnesses and are subject to even stricter rules than deeds (electronic signatures are not currently permitted for example). Furthermore, the witnesses should not be heirs of the testator (the person making the Will), which rules out many people who may be in the same household. One practical solution may be to provide instructions to another individual to sign on the testator’s behalf (in front of the necessary witnesses). This should be perfectly valid if carried out with the assistance of advice and with sufficient record keeping to provide evidence for the future.
Burges Salmon can provide expert advice for anyone looking to execute documents whilst avoiding social contact.
The government has officially accepted the Law Commission of England and Wales' (the Commission’s) opinion that electronic signatures on contracts and many deeds are already legally valid in England and Wales without the need for formal primary legislation.