An amendment to the Wills Act of 1837 has come into force, temporarily allowing the witnessing of wills to take place via virtual means.
A statutory instrument, which came into force on 28th September, now allows the witnessing of wills to take place via ‘videoconferencing or other visual transmission’, such as Skype and Zoom. The changes are being backdated to 31 January 2020 and current plans will see them remain in place until 31 January 2022, unless they are deemed to be needed to be cut short or extended.
The Wills Act 1837 as it stood previously required a will to be signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the will. All parties were to be present throughout the act of signing, and were required to have an uninterrupted line of sight. The rules, which had remained unaltered for over 80 years, were intended to protect people against undue influence and fraud.
The new rules require the quality of the sound and video to be sufficient to enable the remote witnesses to see and hear what was happening at the time. All other requirements relating to the making of a will, including that witnesses cannot be a spouse or one of the beneficiaries in the will, remain in place.
The changes brought in by the statutory instrument are intended to give peace of mind that in the current circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, where social distancing and lockdown restrictions can make it difficult for wills to be witnessed in the usual way, that individuals are still able to have their last wishes legally recognised.
Despite this, government guidance advises that video-witnessed wills should be a last resort, with the physical witnessing of wills remaining the recommended option where it is safe to do so.
This amendment to the way in which wills can be made is being seen by some as the first step in the modernisiation of the Wills Act. As with any development to the way we use digital methods of communication to complete tasks, it goes without saying that the technology, and the way in which it is used by those involved, needs to be up to scratch – and this is particularly pertinent here.
It will certainly be interesting to see how much uptake there is on the part of clients and whether there will be further digital developments to this area of law. Clearly, as with any change to the law, seeking further legal advice from an expert solicitor is recommended.
For more information or to discuss the changes with us in more detail, please contact Rebecca on 01457 761320 or email Rebecca@odonnellsolicitors.co.uk.
Rebecca O’Donnell is Head of Private Client at O’Donnell Solicitors.