Wills witnessed by video to be made legal in pandemic

Law on legacies lets technology replace participants’ physical presence for first time

Jane Dalton
Saturday 25 July 2020 16:41 BST
Will-makers should hold the document up to the camera first, the guidance says
Will-makers should hold the document up to the camera first, the guidance says (iStock)

Wills witnessed over a video link are being made legal in England and Wales to allow for social distancing during the pandemic.

Ministers say that so long as the quality of the sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what was happening, wills witnessed using such technology will be acceptable in law.

Until now, at least two witnesses have had to be physically present and to sign a document for it to be valid.

The change will be backdated to 31 January, the date of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the UK, the government says. It means any will witnessed remotely from that date onwards will be legal.

This measure will remain in place until January 2022, although that date could be changed if necessary, the Ministry of Justice said.

The new law amends the Wills Act 1837 to state that where wills must be signed in the “presence” of at least two witnesses, their presence may be either physical or virtual.

Government guidance on making wills using video-conferencing sets out how the will-maker should hold the front page of the will document up to the camera to show the witnesses and should ensure the witnesses can see them actually writing their signature, not just their head and shoulders.

The document should then be taken or sent to the two witnesses – who are not beneficiaries – for them to sign, ideally within 24 hours.

The witnesses should then hold up the will to the will-maker to show them that they are signing it and should then sign it, and this session should be recorded if possible, the guidance says. Electronic signatures will not be permitted.

During lockdown, lots of people have been using Zoom or FaceTime to get people to witness their wills, the government says.

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 wills witnessed via video technology 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.”

But the government said the use of video technology should be a last resort and people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of wills where it is safe to do so.

Wills witnessed through windows are already considered legitimate, provided there is clear sight of the person signing it.

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