Temporary legislation released to allow wills to be witnessed via video link

The Government has confirmed that for the next two years wills will be able to be witnessed remotely in response to the covid pandemic.

Previously, under the 1837 wills act, the will must be signed in the physical presence of two witnesses in order for it to be valid. However, with social distancing and lockdown rules in effect across England it has been difficult, and in some cases impossible, for this to happen.

In response to these complications, ministers have now agreed that wills may be witnessed via video link in exceptional circumstances. Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, said: “We know that the pandemic has made this process more difficult, which is why we are changing law to ensure that wills witnessed via video technology are legally recognised. Our measures will give peace of mind to many that their last wishes can still be recorded during this challenging time, while continuing to protect the elderly and vulnerable.”

In addition to these measures, it has been agreed that the legislation will be backdated to January 2020, meaning any wills witnessed in this way from that date will be legally accepted. This is currently a temporary measure, in place until 2022, with the possibility of extension should it be deemed necessary. Guidelines state however that this method should only be used as a last resort and physical witnessing should be used so long as it is safe to do so.

The Law Society of England and Wales president, Simon Davis says that they have been speaking with the Ministry of Justice about how to alleviate issues arising from the pandemic and how they can bring will writing legislation up to modern standards. They have been pushing to allow judges the powers to recognise the deceased’s intentions, to ensure that their estate is distributed in line with their wishes even when strict formalities have not been adhered to. However, as this would require primary legislation to be passed, it was concluded that temporary remote witnessing would temporarily and quickly simplify the will writing process during the pandemic.

If you need to write or update your will, or would like to discuss the possibility of remote witnessing, please get in touch today: william.richards@hinedowning.com