Video-Witnessing Wills Made Legal In The UK Due To COVID
The ramifications of the COVID-19 virus have spread far and wide. An increasing number of people have sought to make or update their wills during the pandemic but, since lockdown, clients wishing to sign their wills have faced a bit of a barrier.
The Wills Act 1837 requires that a will must be signed by the testator in the presence of at least two witnesses. This has been difficult, and in some cases impossible, due to the government restrictions on isolating and shielding.
In answer to this, the government has introduced legislation to amend the act to allow people to use video conferencing technology for the video-witnessing of wills. This legislation applies to wills made from 31st January 2020 (the first registered Covid-19 case in England and Wales) and will allow the video-witnessing of wills until 31st January 2022. Of course, this can be shortened or extended as appropriate, and those who are able to witness wills in the conventional way may continue to do so.
Following the existing law, a witness must have a “clear line of sight” on the will-maker as they sign, and must understand that they are witnessing and acknowledging the signing of a will. Lawyers have increasingly used witnessing in a variety of ways during the pandemic. This has included through a window or an open door, from a corridor or an adjacent room, or even outdoors from a short distance, such as in a garden, all remaining in their clear line of sight. There has even been signing on a car boot!
In this new law, the video-witnessing of wills via video conferencing technologies – such as Zoom, Skype, Facetime, etc. – would be used as the clear line of sight.
There are obvious advantages to video conferencing being used in this way. It would assist a court in the event of a will being challenged to establish that the will has indeed been properly executed and to try and detect any indications of undue influence, fraud or lack of capacity. However, there are clear risks associated with video-witnessing wills that need to be looked at very carefully. Any firms adopting the new legislation need to be very sure that all the potential risks have been covered.
Video-witnessing wills through pre-recorded videos will not be permitted and witnessing in real-time will be mandatory. Of course, it will be very difficult to check whether the testator is acting with capacity and in the absence of undue influence.
In addition, amended attestation clauses on the will would be recommended to cover the new rules.
Governing bodies such as STEP (Society for Trust and Estate Practitioners) have cautiously welcomed the change.
If you would like to make a will or update an existing one, please contact Claire Warner by calling 01752 203500 or email Claire.warner@GAsolicitors.com. Alternatively, you can send us a message via our contact page and a member of our team will get in touch as soon as possible.