Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Justice has confirmed that Wills can continue to be witnessed via video-link services such as Zoom in England and Wales until 2024, extending measures brought in during the coronavirus pandemic, write Nicholas Barlow, Head of our Private Client team, and Michael Romain.
The move announced here by the government will help those who are isolating or shielding due to Covid-19 have their Will validly executed without having to leave their home.
The extension will last until 31 January 2024, in which time the Law Commission shall consider potential reforms of the law around the valid execution of Wills, including whether to make the above changes permanent.
According to Law Society research, around one in seven (14%) legal professionals who had been involved in making a Will since the initial changes in 2020 had used software such as Zoom or FaceTime for witnessing Wills.
Previously, witnesses had to be physically present, and the law was rigid in this respect. Social distancing measures meant it became increasingly difficult for those vulnerable to Covid-19 to be in the vicinity of the required independent witnesses.
To protect people against undue influence and fraud, two witnesses are still needed, and virtual witnessing is only recognised if the quality of the sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what is happening throughout the process of executing the Will.
The two witnesses cannot be beneficiaries under the Will and electronic signatures will not be permitted.
Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “I want people to be able to use technology safely and securely to ensure they can record their final wishes, no matter the circumstances.
“This is a common-sense measure that will give vulnerable people peace of mind that their Wills are recognised if they are forced to have them witnessed via video due to isolation.”
The use of video technology should remain a last resort and people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of Wills where it is safe to do so, the Government said.
Wills witnessed through windows are already considered legitimate in case law, provided the witnesses have a clear sight of the person signing it.
Reported here by the Press Association, Stephanie Boyce, the President of the Law Society of England and Wales said: “Solicitors have bent over backwards to ensure their clients have been able to make valid Wills despite the restrictions during the pandemic.
“Those who have used video witnessing have told the Law Society it has been a useful option to have: to help vulnerable people set their affairs in order when making a Will in the physical presence of witnesses is not possible.
“We look forward to the forthcoming Law Commission report on wills reform, which we hope will expand on this and other issues to improve Will-making in England and Wales.”
Emily Deane, technical counsel and head of government relations at professional body STEP, said: “We welcome this announcement because it gives clarity to everyone involved in the process of witnessing Wills.
“While we agree that video technology should remain a last resort, it is vital that anyone who is required to isolate can arrange their Will and has peace of mind that it is legally valid.”
If you are affected by similar issues or would like to have a related discussion in confidence, please call Nicholas Barlow Partner, member of STEP and Head of the Private Client team on quoting Ref CB265 on 020 7692 7561 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The above is accurate as of 12 January 2022. 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.