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Wills Act to be amended to allow virtual witnessing of wills

The exceptional circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic has seen significant changes in the way Wills are signed and witnessed, be it through car windscreens or in gardens. Last week the Lord Chancellor temporarily amended the Wills Act 1837 to allow the witnessing of Wills to take place via ‘video-conferencing or other visual transmission’.

These reforms, coming into force on the 28th September will be backdated to the 31 January 2020 and remain in place until 31 January 2022.  This means that any Will witnessed by video technology from the 31 January will be legally valid provided that the quality of video and sound is sufficiently high to see and hear clearly what is happening.

These changes provide reassurance to those finding it difficult to comply with the Will-signing formalities due to social distancing or illness and will also give comfort to those who have already used video technology to sign and witness their Wills during the pandemic.

What you should know…

  • It must be a three-way live video call for each signature with each individual able to hear and see each other as they make their signature.   If possible, the process should be recorded and retained.
  • Witnessing pre-recorded videos will not be allowed.
  • Witnessing a pre-signed Will is not allowed
  • Once the person making the Will has signed, the original document must be taken or sent to each witness as soon as possible.
  • When it arrives, the same live three-way video call must be followed where each person can see and hear the witness as they sign. 
  • As each person signs, the others should acknowledge verbally that they have seen the signing take place.
  • The two witnesses must be over the age of 18 and anyone who stands to benefit from the will cannot be a witness or their spouse or civil partner.

Government guidance states that video-witnessed wills should remain a last resort and the physical witnessing of Wills should be carried out where it is safe to do so in compliance with social distancing measures.

Head of our Wills and Probate Team Ann Donnelly said “During the pandemic, we have seen a considerable rise in people wishing to make a Will and the reforms with regard to video-conferencing will be helpful to many.  We would however, advise that video-conferencing for the use of signing and witnessing Wills is used with extreme caution.  We are delighted to be able to open our doors and be able to see clients in person with safety measures in place, but the reforms will offer peace of mind to those who used video-conferencing during lockdown.  We would always advise people to seek professional legal advice when making a Will to ensure their Will is valid and the process is carried out in accordance with the law”.

The reforms have been put in place to protect people however, there is a greater risk of a Will being challenged.  For example, it may be that the procedure wasn’t followed correctly, there was undue influence or maybe it was felt the person making the Will did not have the mental capacity to understand what they were doing.  There is also the added risk of a delay in the signed Will being sent to each witness, if the person who has made the Will dies during the process. 

If you are thinking about making or updating your Will please contact our team on 01926 491181.  To help you plan and prepare, click here to view our checklist for making a will.

For further details of the Government guidance, please click here


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