Wills witnessed by video link to be held valid
Abbie Kingdon 13-08-2020
There are very strict formalities which apply to the witnessing and signature of wills, but during the pandemic, it has not always been possible for people isolating to comply with these rules. 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. Innovative solutions have been sought to ensure that people can still get their will drawn up, even if they are not allowed to be in the same room as anybody else.
Can wills be witnessed by video link?
New rules mean that it is now possible for wills to be legally witnessed by video link. The change in the law will be backdated to 31 January 2020 and it means that any will witnessed by video link in England and Wales from that date onwards, will be legally valid. It is anticipated that these changes to the rules will be made in September 2020.
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.
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 remotely, via a video link, should be a last resort. Wherever possible, wills should still be signed in the presence of physical witnesses.
Can wills be signed electronically?
Electronic signatures will not be permitted. The requirements remain for wills to be signed by hand, even during the covid-19 pandemic, and it is not anticipated that this is likely to change any time soon.