Wills witnessed remotely to be temporarily legalised as a result of the coronavirus pandemic

Video witnessing will

Some people have already turned to having witnesses virtually present through a video call and any dated from 31st January onwards will be made legal with the change to the law.

The current law states that two witnesses, over the age of 18, must be physically present to witness the making of a will, but social distancing measures have made this difficult.

New legislation which will amend the current law in September will mean that video conferencing software, such as Zoom, FaceTime or Skype, will be legalised as a communication solution during social distancing measures.

Two witnesses – who are not beneficiaries – will still be required to witness and sign. Electronic signatures will not be permitted.

The change to the law will be backdated to 31st January 2020, which was when the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the UK.

The change will remain in place until 31st January 2022, after which wills must return to being made with witnesses who are physically present. However, this time period could be shortened or extended if deemed necessary.

The government have said that the use of video technology should be a last resort and people must still arrange the physical witnessing of wills where it is safe to do so.

Although it might provide reassurance to anyone who would not be able to legally execute a will prior to the change in law, there are risks and challenges.

Wills will only be deemed legal if the quality of sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what is happening at the time. This leaves the matter open to opinion of ‘quality’ and could cause a rise in disputes. There are also questions around ensuring there is no undue influence.

Peter de Vena Franks, Campaign Director at Will Aid, supports the government’s new legislation and advice that the use of video technology should not be the first port of call. “Legalising video-witnessed wills makes it easier for people to record their final wishes during the coronavirus pandemic which is helpful given the current situation.” he said.

“However, it is important that witnessing wills in this way only happens when there is no other option. The grey areas in getting a will witnessed remotely means we may be seeing an increase in disputes following the deaths of those who have signed their wills using video technology, which is not helpful for anyone.”

During the Will Aid campaign in November 2020, participating solicitors will advise on the best way to get an individual will witnessed on a case by case basis.

The official guidance on making wills using video technology: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/guidance-on-making-wills-using-video-conferencing

Making a will with Will Aid is easy. Will Aid is a partnership between solicitors and nine of the UK’s best-loved charities. Every November, participating solicitors waive their fee for writing a basic will in return for a suggested voluntary donation of £100 for a single will and £180 for a pair of mirror wills.

From September, you can find a solicitor in your area by visiting https://lookup.willaid.org.uk/#/ or calling 0300 0300 013.