The government has announced legislation reforms, albeit temporary, to allow for wills to be witnessed and executed via video link software, such as Zoom, Facetime, Whatsapp etc.
The Current Law
Currently, the law in England & Wales states that a will is validly signed and executed when:
- The will-maker makes the will voluntarily, is of sound mind and intends to give legal effect to the contents of their will;
- The will-maker signs their will in writing and in the presence of two or more witnesses who each sign the will; and
- The witnesses are both aged over 18, are not members of the will-makers family nor are they specified as beneficiaries of your Will.
Considering government guidelines surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, it has been challenging for those isolating or shielding to arrange for wills to be signed, strictly, ‘in the presence of’ two witnesses.
How the Law is Changing
In September 2020, the government will implement the new rules legalising video witnessed wills during the coronavirus pandemic. These rules will be back-dated to 31 January 2020, being the date of the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the UK, and shall be in effect until 31 January 2022, however this may be subject to extension or shortening.
This will mean anyone who has arranged their wills to be witnessed by video software since 31 January 2020 can have peace of mind that their wills shall be deemed legal, provided that the documents were still signed and executed correctly.
The type of video conferencing or device is not important, as long as the quality of sound and video are sufficient to understand what is happening and provide will-maker and their two witnesses a ‘clear line of sight’ of the signature.
Witnessing pre-recorded videos will not be permissible, the video link must be live and in real time. Equally, e-signatures remain prohibited for signing a will.
However, the use of video technology should remain a last resort and people are encouraged to arrange physical witnessing of wills where it is safe and convenient for them to do so.
Guidance on witnessing a will by video
The government and the Society for Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) have provided guidance on this new legal reform:
- The signing block in the will should be drafted to acknowledge that the signing and witnessing of the wills is done remotely.
- If the witnesses do not know the will-maker personally, they should ask for proof of ID.
- The witnesses should confirm they can see and hear clearly and can understand their role in signing a legal document.
- It is advised to record the signing of the will, if possible.
- The will-maker should hold the front page up to the camera and then turn to the signature page with the camera clearly in view of the will-maker signing. The will-maker then signs and dates the will.
- The will should then be sent to the witnesses, ideally within 24 hours. The same will document must be sent to the witnesses, as opposed to a scan or a photocopy. This process may be delayed if docs have to be posted but will-makers are advised to send the document promptly after they have signed.
- Once the witnesses receive the will, they must reconnect with the will-maker by video link making the same checks as to audio and visibility. They will then sign in their respective space in the signature block. Witnesses must not include the date when they sign.
- If the second witness is based in a separate location, the process of send the will and signing via video link is repeated.
- Once these signatures have all been arranged, the will is treated as valid from the date the will-maker signed the document.
For further advice and information on how to draft your Wills and affairs, please contact Christopher Seddon, who is the head of our Private Client Team, for guidance and an initial free telephone consultation.
Telephone: 01483 796008