- Remote will instruction taking continues to be fully valid
- The Ministry of Justice has indicated intent to legalise of ‘video’ witnessing for a limited period
- The Ministry of Justice suggests this change in law will be retroactive covering wills made in 2021
Video witnessing of wills expected – Most people would like to think that their possessions and property, such as they are, would pass to the people they love upon their demise, which is of course the object of making a will. The Covid 19 pandemic has sharpened our senses in this respect, in other words many of us have become more aware of our mortality.
It has also presented us with difficulties to overcome. Having made a will, often with the help of professional will writers to guide us through the process. In order for the will to be legal it has to be validly executed, i.e. the Testator (the person making the will) must sign their will in the presence of two witnesses. The witnesses have to be able to see the testator sign the will. In normal circumstances this would not be a problem.
However, during the current pandemic, life is anything but normal! Where people have been locked down, self-isolating and in some cases shielded, social distancing is essential if we are to protect ourselves and others from being infected with this potentially deadly virus.
Witnessing the signature of the testator may prove difficult if physical contact is to be avoided. Many people have resorted to signing their wills through closed windows where witnesses can see the signing of the will, the will then being passed through the window to the witnesses for them to sign, all parties wearing masks and taking protective precautions. Whilst this is certainly achievable it can be stressful and inconvenient.
So GOOD NEWS! Earlier this year the Law Society announced that they were in talks with the Ministry of Justice to discuss emergency measures that could be put in place to allow wills to be validly executed safely during the pandemic. Many of us have had to adjust our way of lives in order to achieve social distancing and stay safe. One of the biggest changes is the level of online shopping! We’ve done it and actually many of us have got used to it and now prefer it! Well it makes sense to use our computer skills to sign and witness wills by video link, using apps such as Zoom or Skype, with which many of us have become familiar over the last few months and indeed many will writers have used to take instructions remotely.
This move would mean that the current requirement in the Wills Act 1837 that the witnesses need to be ‘present’ would no longer mean physically present as long as the witnesses have line of sight of the testator signing their will, which can of course be achieved by video link. It makes sense and of course the world has moved on somewhat since 1837 when Queen Victoria ascended the throne!
The Ministry of Justice are expected to announce that this change to the law will have retrospective effect and will apply to any wills executed after 31st January 2020, which means that any testators who have resorted to video witnessing during the recent difficult months will not need to get them re-signed at a later date.
This is not expected to be a permanent change though. It is expected to reviewed in two years time.
We look forward to the official announcement from