Answer: When it’s not signed, or if it’s not been witnessed by two people
Ok, ok, so it’s not the most exciting answer to a riddle, but it’s an important point.
If you don’t sign your Will, it’s just an expensive piece of paper
Your two witnesses should be present when you sign the Will and should sign after you. They don’t have to see the contents of the Will. They shouldn’t be someone who will benefit in the Will, or closely related to you anyone who will benefit, otherwise part or all of the Will can be invalidated. The witnesses can however be related to each other, for example mother and son or a married couple.
Recently, I spoke to a friend who had written his current Will himself. It only had one beneficiary, his best friend, who was also one of the witnesses. He had also left out his sister, which, in itself isn’t a problem legally, but all likelihood his Will could have been successfully challenged by her in court, as there was no way of proving whether or not the witness had exerted undue influence on him to leave them all his money.
What else can you do?
Your will should also ideally be dated. Legally it doesn’t need to be, but it saves a hell of a lot of confusion all round if your nearest and dearest know which of your 5 Wills sitting in the bedside cabinet is the most recent one. For this reason Wills usually have a “revocation clause” at the start of them (meaning you are revoking any previous Will written) and are dated so the person reading it can be sure it’s the most current version.
The Will should also be written. The exception to this would be a “privileged Will” where the usual requirements of a Will are relaxed, for those on active military service. In this case the person giving them can be under the normal mandatory age of 18 and can also give their wishes orally.
Normally your Will should be written on paper, but technically you could write it on a grapefruit and it would still be valid. But why would you? And it might rase some doubts about your sanity at the time of writing it.
Speaking of which; you must be of sound mind when you write your Will- a good estate planner/Will-writer will always take and keep attendance notes about your health and reasons for writing the will. This is particularly important if you’re leaving someone out who can legally challenge your Will, such as your child or spouse. That way if the Will is ever challenged their notes will back up your wishes because, at that point, you’ll no longer be around yourself to explain why you made those decisions.
So. Now you know what makes a Will a Will.
Probably worth having a check to see if any Will you’ve got lying around has been correctly signed and witnessed. Otherwise your wishes may not be followed and the time and money you spent getting your Will done will have been wasted.
Needless to say, I’d always recommend getting expert advice when drawing up a Will so you can ensure your Will has been drafted both legally and correctly, and simple mistakes such as this are avoided.