In a press release published over the weekend, the Ministry of Justice has announced that is it introducing temporary legislation during the Coronavirus pandemic which allows people to use video link to witness a will being executed in England and Wales.
The new rules are due to come into effect in September, and will be backdated to 31 January 2020 (the date of the first confirmed Coronavirus case in the UK). The change is set to remain in place until 31 January 2022, or for longer if necessary.
The guidance states that the use of video technology should remain a last resort, and people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of wills where it is safe to do so.
The Wills Act 1837 sets out that wills must be witnessed in the 'physical presence' of two witnesses, however, the amendment to this is that the witnesses can be 'virtually' present when the will-maker signs their will. The 'virtual' witnesses must still have a clear line of sight when the will-maker signs the will, and it is suggested that the signing process be recorded so that adequate evidence is available if required in the event of the will being challenged.
Sufficient planning for the will signing process should take place, as it is suspected that once the will-maker has signed the original will, it is to be sent to the witnesses in turn for them to also sign. The Government guidance indicates that ideally this should be done within 24 hours. It is again important to ensure that the signing is recorded and done in the virtual presence of the will-maker.
Further, the Government has determined that electronic signatures will not be allowed due to the risks of undue influence and potential fraud.
This is a new dawn for the legislation surrounding will making, and one which should be carefully considered with advice being taken if required to ensure validity of the will.
Video-witnessed wills to be made legal during coronavirus pandemic The Government is to legalise the remote witnessing of wills – making it easier for people to record their final wishes during the coronavirus pandemic.