Video-witnessed wills legislation extended in England and Wales
This article was first published in e-PrivateClient.
Vulnerable people across England and Wales will continue to be able to have their wills witnessed via video-link up until 2024, under legislation to extend measures brought in during the pandemic.
The change will extend until 2024 this ability for those who are forced to isolate either with covid or from another vulnerability. This will reassure all those who need to use this provision that their final wishes are legally-recognised as witnesses previously had to be physically present.
Law Society research has found that around 14% of legal professionals who had been involved in making a will since the change in 2020 had used software such as Zoom or FaceTime for witnessing wills.
To protect people against undue influence and fraud, two witnesses are still required and virtual witnessing is only recognised if the quality of the sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what is happening.
The extension will last until 31 January 2024 while the Law Commission considers potential reforms to the law around wills, including whether to make these changes permanent.
The UK’s Ministry of Justice said the use of video technology should remain a last resort and people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of wills where it is safe to do so. Wills witnessed through windows are already considered legitimate in case law provided they have clear sight of the person signing it.
The announcement was cautiously welcomed by the private client legal sector, with James Coo, a partner at Collyer Bristow, commenting that ‘the extension of the measures allowing wills to be witnessed via video-link should be welcomed during these challenging times. That said, in practice the circumstance where it is necessary to witness a will via video-link or where it is more convenient than arranging for physical witnesses are limited.’
Owen Byrne, partner at BDB Pitmans, added that ‘whilst flexibility in face of a continuing pandemic on the rules on witnessing will is generally welcomed, it is not an option that has been taken up by the majority of legal professionals with Law Society research finding that only 14% have made use of the emergency rules.’