In a recent ground-breaking update, the Government has finally caught up with the reality of the past few months and has confirmed plans to recognise Wills that are remotely witnessed, including by video conferencing.

Current position      

When signing a Will a person must:

  • be 18 or over
  • have capacity
  • be making their Will of their own free will
  • make it in writing
  • sign it in the presence of two witnesses who are both over 18
  • not leave their witnesses anything in the Will

Reforms

The main points are:

  • the introduction of laws in England and Wales allowing Wills to be witnessed virtually
  • changes to be backdated to include Wills put in place since 31 January 2020
  • the reforms are to remain in place as long as necessary
  • reassurance to the public that Wills witnessed by video-link are valid

The combination of lockdown and social distancing measures has made meeting the witnessing requirements difficult. It has made it especially challenging for those who have been isolating or shielding.

During the pandemic everyone experienced how technology has proven pivotal and played an important role in helping people try to continue with their 'normal' daily lives as much as possible whilst adapting to the 'new norm'. This was bound to happen in an age where everyone's daily lives involves or is reliant on digital technology in some way or another.

Understandably with Wills many have also been looking to technology to find a solution. Video links like Zoom or Facetime were suggested. On 25 July the Government made moves to recognise this, by reassuring the public that Wills witnessed in such a way will be legal, provided the sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what is happening at the time.

The changes will be through new legislation in September 2020 which will amend the current law to include video witnessing.

The Government recognises the importance of enabling people to take "the incredibly important step to plan for the future by making a will…. That their last wishes can still be recorded at this challenging time, while continuing to protect the elderly and vulnerable."

However, the Government has said that using video technology should be looked at as a last resort. People must continue to adopt the current status quo of arranging the physical witnessing of Wills where it is safe to do so.

Wills witnessed through windows are recognised as acceptable as long as there is clear sight of the person signing their Will .

The moves are ground-breaking allowing will witnessing over video conferencing.

It is a reflection of the times where digital technology plays an increasing role in our daily lives. By removing what is seen as a hurdle in the process, this opens up the Will making process further to the public ensuring they can put in place Wills efficiently, effectively and safely, especially for those who are isolating.

By applying the reforms retrospectively it also provides reassurance to those who have had to resort to these ways for the purposes of witnessing their Wills, at a time that they had no choice but to adopt these means.

At the heart of the reforms is the important recognition of enabling and making it easier for people to put in place a Will without unnecessary hurdles during the pandemic.

Moving forward

The measures will remain in place as long as necessary. The Ministry of Justice states the time period can be shortened or extended if necessary.

All other formal requirements still stand. In order to protect people against undue influence and fraud the safeguard of requiring two witnesses (who are not beneficiaries) remains untouched. Electronic signatures will still not be accepted.

The policy will clearly have to continue to evolve to react to the changeable circumstances of the pandemic with the Government modifying general guidance in response.

Any questions on any of the matters raised or if you wish to make a Will or Lasting Power of Attorney please contact the private client team at Russell-Cooke. We are ensuring that all clients are contacted personally and offered arrangements that suit them best when putting in place their Will.

Lastly and most importantly we hope everyone both clients and contacts continue to stay well and safe in these difficult times.