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Legal Update: Wills Can Now Be Witnessed Online

Posted on August 5, 2020
Video Witnessed Wills

How will this affect the way Wills are made?

The Government recently updated their guidance on the creation of Wills as a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, by temporarily introducing legislation to allow people to use video-conferencing technology to witness a Will being made, rather than needing a Will to be witnessed in-person. This legislation will apply to Wills made since 31 January 2020 and will be valid until 31 January 2022 – although this is subject to change.

As the old saying goes, ‘where there’s a Will, there’s a way’, and with lockdown preventing clients and witnesses from visiting our office to prepare their Will as normal, it was clear the process would need to be adapted to accommodate the new situation we find ourselves in.

To make it easier for people to record their final wishes during the Coronavirus pandemic, the Government announced changes to legislation, although it’s important to note that none of the existing requirements under the Wills Act 1837 have changed.

This means that the requirements regarding witnesses, as outlined in Section 9 of the Act, remain as follows:

No Will shall be valid unless –

(a) it is in writing and signed by the testator or by some other person in his presence and by his direction; and
(b) it appears that the testator intended by his signature to give effect to the Will; and
(c) the signature is made or acknowledged by the testator in the presence of two or more witnesses present at the same time; and
(d) each witness either attests and signs the Will or acknowledges his signature in the presence of the testator (but not necessarily in the presence of any other witness), but no form of attestation shall be necessary.

Instead, the amendment to the Act allows video-conferencing to be one way of distanced witnessing, so long as the witnesses have a ‘clear line of sight’ of the Will-maker signing and understand that they are witnessing and acknowledging the signing of the document. The witnesses must see the Will being signed in real-time, so pre-recorded videos will not be counted, and ideally, the whole process should be recorded, with the recording retained for future reference – especially if the Will is challenged in any way later.

In many situations, this temporary update to the Wills Act 1837 is a great move in these difficult times. As Lauren Marie Salmon, Solicitor from our Wills & Probates department, states: “Whilst Jefferies have adapted their process to accommodate Wills being witnessed at home, some clients are still struggling to find two witnesses, especially those who are vulnerable and shielding. There are clear advantages to video-witnessed Wills and I think the change in the law to legally recognize Wills, which are witnessed via video technology, could be a positive step.”

However, video-conferencing isn’t ideal in all cases. Lauren points out that “there may be more vulnerable clients who are less likely to have the technology to accommodate the change in law. In any event, I do think that it needs to be made clear that 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.”

Here at Jefferies, we are ready and able to help you make your Will in a way that best suits your personal circumstances, whether through video technology or in-person – while taking the latest Government health and safety guidelines into consideration.

To learn more about our Will writing services, please contact our Wills & Probate team on 01702 332 311 or through our website here.

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