The Government has recently announced that it will be enacting a change in law in September to make wills witnessed by video conferencing valid. This change is to be applied retrospectively to 31 January 2020, the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
This is considered by many to be one of the biggest changes to this law in 200 years and marks a milestone in the preparation of wills. Since 1837, a validly executed will has needed to be in writing, to be signed by the testator (the person putting the will in place), in the presence of two independent witnesses (i.e. people who are not beneficiaries under the will), who also sign in the presence of the testator.
The requirement for two independent witnesses helps to ensure that the testator understands the importance of the document they are signing, the implications of making a will and provides a safeguard against undue influence from third parties.
The pandemic and lockdown has created unprecedented challenges and made it almost impossible for many vulnerable, shielding or self-isolating individuals to sign their wills. However, by using a creative approach these challenges have been overcome by the team at Raworths with socially distanced will witnessing, such as over car bonnets or garden fences!
The full details of the changes in the law are currently unknown and are temporary, only lasting until 31 January 2022. It is also important to note that the witnesses will still need to physically sign the same will as the testator, even though they can witness the signing over Zoom.
This is a huge change to the law and one which should not be taken lightly. It should also be stressed that wills should only be witnessed via video conferencing if there are no other alternatives available.
It is also worth noting that the law in relation to signing other documents, including Lasting Powers of Attorney has not changed. These still need to be signed and witnessed in person and cannot be signed by the donor or attorneys via video conferencing.
If you would like to discuss putting a will in place, please contact our Trusts, Wills and Estates team on 01423 566 666.
Published on 17 August 2020