Video Wills the road ahead

18th November 2020

With lockdown measures to manage the pandemic, as well as social distancing and shielding issues, complying with existing rules on drafting a will have become challenging.

But there are ways forward.

Before the impact of Covid-19, the rules regarding making a valid will were set out in the Wills Act 1837 and had remained practically unchanged.

In particular, one of the requirements for a Will to be valid is that the person making the will (the Testator) had to be in the physical presence of two witnesses when signing their will.  

The first lockdown starting in March 2020, together with social distancing and shielding issues, meant that complying with the existing legislation when drafting a will was going to be a real problem.

Changes were announced by the Government in July 2020 to legalise the virtual witnessing of Wills.

This came into force in September 2020 and is set to last until 31 January 2022.  

It will also apply retrospectively to any wills made since 31 January 2020.

What remains the same?

The testator must still sign their will in the presence of two witnesses, and both those witnesses must have a “clear line of sight allowing them to see the signature being written on the will by the testator.  

The two witnesses must then sign the same document in the presence of the testator.

What is still possible under the original rules

A will would still be valid if any of the following were done during the pandemic:

  • Witnessing through a window or open door of a house or vehicle
  • Witnessing from a corridor or room next door with the door open
  • Witnessing outdoors from a short distance

What has changed?

The above steps will now be possible via video link, rather than the witnesses being required to be physically present.  Pre-recorded videos are not permissible.

What is not allowed

Electronic signatures are not permitted as part of the temporary rule changes.  The reason for this is that it was thought electronic signatures were open to risks of undue influence and fraud against the testator.

Are you looking for help?

We are happy to discuss the practicalities involved in signing a will in these current times.

If you would like to discuss estate planning, the making of a will that reflects your wishes, or the best way to ensure your will is properly witnessed, please contact a member of the probate team.
 

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