Wills witnessed by video link to be held valid
The change in the law will be backdated to the 31st January 2020 and means that any will witnessed by video link in England and Wales from that date onwards will be legally valid. The changes will be made in September 2020.
Under the current law, the legal requirements for signing a will requires the testator (the person making the will) to sign his or her will in the physical presence of two witnesses. This has been especially difficult during the pandemic due to the rules on social distancing and for those shielding.
Ministers have advised that wills witnessed by video conferencing such as Zoom or Facetime will be valid, provided the quality of the sound of the video was sufficient to hear and see what was happening.
It is anticipated that the Government will also issue guidance which will also set out how the testator should ensure that the witnesses can actually see them sign the will (not just see their head and shoulders). The guidance is also expected to require that the will should then be signed by the witnesses ideally within a 24 hour period. Electronic signatures will not be permitted.
The measures will remain in place until January 2022 and may be extended or shortened if necessary.
The change has been welcomed by the legal profession and will give peace of mind to many that their last wishes can still be recorded during this difficult time.
The Government have added however that wills witnessed in this way should be as a last resort and where possible wills should still be signed in the presence of physical witnesses.