News article published on: 27th July 2020
Over the weekend the government announced plans to introduce legislation that will allow wills to be witnessed remotely via video. The provisions are to be backdated to 31 January 2020 and remain in place ‘as long as necessary’.
Current rules relating to the execution of wills are contained in the Wills Act 1837 which (amongst other requirements) provides for wills to be signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses. The Covid pandemic and social distancing requirements have created difficulty in complying with this provision, especially for those who are shielding. The new rules will certainly assist those who are unable to arrange for two independent witnesses to be physically present when signing their will.
This is a significant change in the law relating to the execution of wills, and clear guidance will be needed to ensure there is certainty as to how video witnessing will work and be evidenced in practice, as well as ensuring that vulnerable testators are not being subjected to undue influence or duress. Interestingly, the guidance indicates that video witnessing should only be used as a last resort. So for now, I would recommend that testators continue to sign their wills in the presence of two independent witnesses where it is possible and safe to do so. Where this is not possible, having a specialist wills solicitor involved in the video witnessing process would be advisable.
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