Video-witnessing Wills – step in the right direction, or blind leap of faith?
The Government has extended legislation making Wills witnessed, via video link, legally valid until January 31st 2024.
Originally enacted in July 2020, and backdated to include Wills signed after 31st January 2020, this legislation amended the law in response to the challenges faced during the Covid pandemic.
The Wills Act 1837 sets out the majority of the laws around making Wills. For a Will to be legally valid you must:
- be 18 or over (except in some exceptional circumstances)
- make it voluntarily
- have mental capacity
- make it in writing
- sign it in the presence of two witnesses (who cannot be beneficiaries, or married to beneficiaries, in your Will)
- have it signed by your two witnesses, in your presence, and in the presence of each other.
During the height of the pandemic, complying with the Wills Act became almost impossible in some circumstances. How could two witnesses be physically present to sign a Will when the vast majority of the population were isolating, or in quarantine, to keep us all safe?
Indeed, Will writers and solicitors found ourselves using quite peculiar methods to ensure Wills were signed safely, whilst adhering to the law: Wills 'being signed on car bonnets' amid lockdown.
This problem became particularly acute for those most in need. For people shut away in care homes or in hospital, being able to make or update a Will could be crucial. The new legislation made the witnessing of Wills in these circumstances possible.
However, electronic signatures are still not allowed and the video-witnessing process is laborious and open to error. This means that most professionals will only use video-witnessing as an absolute last resort, and I would strongly discourage anyone from having their own Will signed in this manner. Indeed, it is likely that we will see many video-witnessed Wills challenged or found to be invalid in the coming years.
Progress has certainly been made in bringing the Will signing process up to date with modern technology, and I welcome efforts to develop and modernise the industry further.