This week it was confirmed that from September the Government is introducing legislation to allow the use of video-conferencing technology for the witnessing of wills in England and Wales.
It is, and will remain, a legal requirement for two people to witness the execution of a will - something that normally requires a physical presence and with a clear line of sight to protect people against undue influence and fraud. However, this has proved challenging during the Coronavirus pandemic with social distancing and movement restrictions.
The use of video technology in all areas of life, including legal services, has therefore become more commonplace - and has allowed for those who have been shielding or self-isolating to continue to deal with their affairs.
The Wills Act 1837 (the Act) will be amended to include a 'virtual presence', via video link as an alternative to the physical presence. The legislation will be backdated to wills made since 31st January 2020 (the date of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the UK) and will apply in England and Wales for two years until 31st January 2022. However, this can be shorted or extended if deemed necessary. It remains Government advice that where people can make wills in the conventional way with a physical presence, they should continue to do so.
There will be exemptions to this change in cases where a Grant of Probate has already been issued in respect of a deceased person, or where the application is already in the process of being administered. An electronic signature is also still not permitted, and the quality of the sound and video needs to be sufficient to see and hear what is happening. Pre-recorded videos will also not be permissible.
Section 9 of the Act sets out the requirements for making and witnessing a will and will remain unchanged by this adjustment.
The lockdown situation also tested the requirement for a 'clear line of sight' between the will-maker and the witnesses. The new Government guidance also allows for the following scenarios during the pandemic if a clear line of sight has been maintained: witnessing through a window or open door of a house or vehicle; witnessing from a corridor or adjacent room into a room with the door open; witnessing outdoors from a short distance, for example in a garden.
Commenting on the news Fosters' Head of Wills, Trusts & Probate Lisa Glynne said: "This new legislation will give further peace of mind to those who have wanted or needed to organise their affairs through this challenging period. We have had to adapt the way we work to overcome the social distancing requirements, while continuing to make sure integrity and due process is maintained at all times.
"Throughout our aim has been to support our clients in a way they have felt comfortable with, this has included the use of video technology, as well as visits to homes and gardens to witness signatures at a safe distance. This news means that we will be able to continue to offer the ability to support people remotely, which is especially important to those who are vulnerable and remain self-isolating. However, we are also now in a position to offer in-person pre-booked appointments at all of our branches - and we have specialised staff in Norwich, Lowestoft and Wymondham who are available to talk through the process and help people with their wills."
More information on the guidance can be found on the Government website, or please contact our Wills, Trusts & Probate department who will be happy to talk you through your options in making a will at this time. Please call 01603 620508 or complete our online enquiry form.