Coronavirus: Wills witnessed by video link to be made legal
Wills witnessed remotely via video link will become legal in England and Wales to make it easier for people to record their final wishes during the pandemic.
The change to the law will be backdated to 31 January, the date of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the UK, the government said.
It means any will witnessed remotely from that date onwards will be legally accepted.
This measure will remain in place until January 2022.
The time period could be shortened or extended if deemed necessary, the Ministry of Justice said.
Under the current law, a will must be made in the physical presence of at least two witnesses but social distancing measures have made this difficult.
For a will to be legally valid, as the law stands you must:
- Be 18 or over
- Make it voluntarily
- Be of sound mind
- Make it in writing
- Sign it in the presence of two witnesses who are both over 18
- Have it signed by your two witnesses, in your presence
- You cannot leave your witnesses (or their married partners) anything in your will
During the lockdown, lots of people have turned to video conferencing software as a communication solution, using platforms such as Zoom or FaceTime.
Ministers said wills witnessed using this sort of technology would be deemed legal, as long as the quality of the sound and video was sufficient to see and hear what was happening at the time.
The change to the legislation to include video-witnessing of wills will be made in September.
Two witnesses – who are not beneficiaries – will still be required, helping to protect people against undue influence and fraud, the government said. Electronic signatures will not be permitted.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “We know that the pandemic has made this process more difficult, which is why we are changing the 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.”
However, the government said the use of video technology should remain a last resort and people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of wills where it was safe to do so.
Wills witnessed through windows are already considered legitimate, provided there is a clear sight of the person signing it.
Emily Deane, technical counsel at Step, a professional body comprising lawyers and accountants, said: “We are delighted that the government has responded to the industry’s calls to allow will witnessing over video conference.
“By removing the need for any physical witnesses, wills can continue to be drawn up efficiently, effectively and safely by those isolating.”
She also welcomed the move to apply the change retrospectively, saying it would provide reassurance to anyone who had had no choice but to execute a will in this manner prior to this legislation being enacted.