The Ministry of Justice has announced that video witnessed Wills will be made legal during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The planned changes to the law, which will be backdated to 31 January 2020, will allow Wills to be witnessed virtually in England and Wales allowing people to legally record their final wishes remotely.
The new rules, which are due in September, will amend the Wills Act 1837, by stating that the two witnesses can be virtually present, which includes video witnessing. The vital safeguards of requiring two witnesses will be maintained, to protect people against undue influence and fraud.
The change will remain in place until 31 January 2022, or as long as deemed necessary, after which Wills must return to being made with witnesses who are physically present. The new rules can be shortened or extended, if deemed necessary. It is important to note the Wills still need to be signed by two witnesses who are not its beneficiaries and electronic signatures will not be permitted.
Kalpa Prajapati, Partner and Head of the Private Client department as Grant Saw, said “We welcome the decision to allow video witnessed Wills, particularly for those shielding or in self-isolation. This measure ensures the health and safety of those in a vulnerable position during these unprecedented times. However, caution must be exercised when using this method due to the scope for abuse. It also means that now more than ever, it is vital that you have an independent professional, such as a solicitor, to assess testamentary capacity to make a Will and ensure that the person who makes the Will knows exactly what they are doing and are not being influenced by a third party to avoid costly disputes post-death”.
Guidance on making Wills via video conferencing have been made available by the Government and can be found here.
STEP have also released a briefing note regarding the execution of Wills using video witnessing. You can access this document here.
For further information on this legal amendment or to discuss Wills in further detail, please email Kalpa or contact her directly on 020 8305 3536.