The Government has announced it will legalise the execution of Wills to be witnessed by virtual presence via video-link, as an alternative to physical presence, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The current law, dating back to the Wills Act 1837, requires a Will to be signed ‘in the presence’ of at least two witnesses present at the same time. This requirement has caused difficulties for those who wish to make a Will in times of self-isolating and social distancing. The new rule will potentially overcome this difficulty with the use of video-link facilities, although the advice remains that where physical presence to witness Will-signing is possible, this should be prioritised over video-witnessing.
Whether the Will is signed in physical or virtual presence of the witnesses, the testator and the witnesses must have a ‘clear line of sight’ of each other’s signing of the document and the witnesses cannot be the beneficiaries.
For execution of Wills witnessed via video conferencing to be deemed legal, the graphic and sound of the video must be of sufficient quality that all parties can clearly see and hear what is happening. The guidance on how to sign and witness a Will by video link can be found here.
The new rules will be backdated to 31 January 2020, the date of the first registered Covid-19 case in England and Wales, and will remain in place until 31 January 2022 or for as long as deemed necessary. Thereafter, the new law will cease to apply and any new Wills will have to comply with the usual requirement that the testator and the witnesses sign the document in the physical presence of each other.
The new legislation will also apply to codicils but take note that it does not allow for electronic signature.
If you are uncertain on how you can make a Will whilst you are keeping a social distance or otherwise, please get in touch and we will be happy to help.