Wills being witnessed over video in England and Wales became legally valid from September 2020. Previously, the law technically required a will to be made “in the presence of” at least two witnesses to be legally valid.
However, some people have understandably turned to platforms such as Zoom or FaceTime while self-isolating or shielding during COVID-19 to get their affairs in order.
Although the new law didn’t come into effect until September, it has been backdated to apply to any will made from 31 January 2020.
The decision to allow wills to be witnessed remotely will initially be in place for two years, until 31 January 2022.
The Government hopes this will help alleviate the difficulties some people have encountered when making wills during the pandemic.
Witnessing via video-link
The Government has outlined a process for people involved with signing or witnessing a will via video-link.
Firstly, the person making the will needs to ensure their two witnesses can see them, each other, and their actions. One of the three also needs to assume responsibility for recording the session over a video platform.
The will maker should hold the front page of the will up to the camera to show the witnesses, turn to the page they will be signing and hold this up.
The Wills Act 1837 still requires the witnesses to see the will-maker (or someone signing on their behalf) signing the will. The will-maker needs to ensure the witnesses can see them actually signing the will on camera.
If the witnesses don’t know the will-maker, they should ask for confirmation of the person’s identity – such as a passport or driving licence.
Once that is all in place, the witnesses need to confirm they can see, hear, acknowledge and understand their roles. They must all be present by way of a three-way video-link if the will cannot be signed in person.
What happens next?
The will should be taken to the two witnesses for them to sign, ideally within 24 hours. It must be the same document as the one used on camera. The Government does not accept electronic signatures.
The witnesses should follow the same process as the will-maker, to ensure the writer of the will can see the witnesses sign the document. Again, this session should be recorded via video-link.
Ideally, both witnesses should sign the will at the same time or the process might need to be repeated twice. This includes the other two parties seeing a witness sign the document and the session being recorded.
It is worth noting that counterpart documents do not constitute a legally valid will in England and Wales at this time. If sending the document by post, bear in mind that the longer it takes for the witnesses to sign the will, the greater potential for problems.
Did you know that we are one of the few East Midlands accountancy firms authorised to provide will writing and probate services? Contact me for further details and to arrange a free, no obligation appointment.