If there is one thing the corona virus pandemic has taught us, it is that it can be perfectly acceptable to relax the rigidity of some of life’s usual routines.
We have all adapted, and now even the law has followed suit. One example is last week’s announcement that new legislation will enable an individual to have their Will witnessed via video link. In response to COVID-19, the new law modifies the usual position that the people who witness the signing of a Will must be ‘present’, in the physical sense.
It is a requirement of valid Will that the testator’s signature is made in the presence of two or more witnesses at the same time. Each witness has to sign the Will as evidence of having seen the testator or testatrix sign his or her name. The witnesses must have a ‘clear line of sight’ – something which social distancing, self-isolation and shielding have made very difficult for those who want to make a new Will or update an existing Will (the strict provisions on witnessing apply to both scenarios). Some people have managed to get around this problem during the pandemic by having their Will witnessed through a window or an open door. But the new temporary law will add the option of using apps like Zoom and FaceTime.
The type of video-conferencing or device used is said not to be important. The key thing is that all involved have a clear line of sight when it comes to signing and witnessing. Also, the witnessing must happen in real-time, as opposed to the witnesses being asked to view a pre-recorded signing. All other aspects of a valid Will, such as there being no undue influence on the testator, must also be in place.
This new legislation is intended to apply (with a few exceptions) to Wills made or amended between 31 January 2020 and 31 January 2022, therefor this ‘virtual presence’ provision is not to be seen as a permanent new way of making or amending Wills. The conventional way is still the correct way for those people who are not affected by pandemic-related restrictions. But the new law will lower current barriers to making a valid Will, and that is hugely welcome. We hope that more people will be encouraged, and in spite of COVID-19 will now feel able to, plan for the future, whether by making their first Will or by updating one they already have in place.
Why make a Will?
By having a well-prepared Will – one that reflects your up-to-date financial, property and family situation – you can be confident that the things you own will pass in accordance with your wishes. If, on the other hand, you die without having made a Will, you run the risk of your loved ones missing out; the law of intestacy will determine who gets what, and the outcome may not be as you intended or as anticipated by those close to you.
That’s why we always encourage clients to plan ahead. We know that dying and post-death matters are subjects most people would prefer not to have to think about, but it is so important to face the practicalities around them. And the good news is that lawyers like us make the process as straightforward as possible. Making a Will is now just a normal part of preparing for the future – one that brings peace of mind that your assets and wishes will be taken care of in the way you’d like them to be.
The above is accurate as at 05 August 2020. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case by case basis.