Video witnessing of Wills now temporarily legal
The pandemic has presented endless challenges to our daily lives. One challenge now being addressed by the government is new temporary legislation making video witnessing of Wills temporarily legal.
Under the current law, a Will must be made in the physical presence of at least two witnesses who have had to be in each other’s presence and have a ‘clear line of sight’ in order to witness the signature of the person making the Will.
Social distancing requirements have obviously made this more difficult, although it has been possible to adhere to social distancing measures and witness Wills legally during the pandemic through windows or even over the garden gate! Wills witnessed in this way have been upheld by the courts, provided that the witnesses have had a clear line of sight of the person signing their Will. This stipulation means that the new temporary legislation requires the video link to be of sufficient quality to enable to the witnesses to see and hear the process clearly and there are many guidelines to adhere to. However, video witnessing of Wills is possible given these stipulations are met.
Two witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the Will are still required and electronic signatures are not valid. The new legislation will commence in September but will be backdated to 31st January 2020 and will apply until January 2022. The Ministry of Justice has said that these dates are subject to change should this be considered necessary.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “We know that the pandemic has made this process more difficult, which is why we are changing law to ensure that video witnessing of Wills is are legally recognised. Our measures will give peace of mind to many that their last wishes can still be recorded during this challenging time, while continuing to protect the elderly and vulnerable.”
However, there is a need for caution as there is a worry that Wills witnessed by video could potentially be incorrectly carried out or open to abuse, and will inevitably cause a rise in inheritance disputes. The guidance issued has been that video witnessing should be a last resort if the conventional method cannot be undertaken.
Leah Chenoweth, Solicitor in our Wills, Trusts and Probate team at Penderlaw said “ We have continued to assist clients with drawing up Wills throughout the pandemic whilst adhering to social distancing measures. We are happy to offer video calls, or can witness Wills at our offices whilst complying with social distancing requirements.” For more information about our services relating to Wills, Trusts and Probate, click here.