Written by Ejike Ndaji, Partner at Spire Solicitors LLP Wymondham office.
The government has announced that Wills witnessed remotely via video link will become legal in England and Wales from September 2020.
The impact of Covid-19 on the legal system has been widespread and the use of video conferencing, using platforms such as Zoom or Skype, has increased drastically over the past few months.
The change to the legislation will be backdated to the 31st January 2020 when the first case of Coronavirus was confirmed in the UK. This will provide reassurance to those who had no choice but to execute a Will in this manner prior to legislation being executed.
The measure will remain in place until January 2022 but could be shortened or extended if deemed necessary. This will allow for people who are in hospital and care homes, or those who are in isolation, to validly sign a new will, or change an existing will, without breaching social distancing rules.
The new changes will work in the following way:
- Wills witnessed using video link will be legal as long as the quality of the sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what is happening at the time.
- In some cases, the video-signing and witnessing process may be recorded and the recording retained. This may assist a court in the event of a Will being challenged- both in terms of whether the will was made in a legally valid way, but also to try and detect any indications of undue influence, fraud or lack of capacity.
- Two witnesses will still be required to help protect people against undue influence and fraud. Electronic signatures will not be permitted.
Where possible, it is still advisable to ask a friend, neighbour or colleague to witness the Will in person provided it is safe to do so. Wills witnessed through windows are already considered legitimate, provided there is clear sight of the person signing it.
Your witness must be over 18, be of sound mind and must not be a family member or beneficiary under your will (or their married partners). The independence of a witness is crucial as if a witness is named as a beneficiary, they will lose their entitlement to inherit under the Will. It could also be argued the witness placed the testator under undue influence.
This is a brief guide to the new legislation being brought into effect from September 2020. If you have any queries or would like to make a new Will or update an existing Will please call Spire Solicitors LLP Wymondham office on 01953 606351.