There are new reforms underway which have changed the way that Wills are witnessed.
Currently, the Law surrounding the execution of wills dates back to 1837 and the Wills Act.
Under the 1837 Wills act to correctly execute a Will, the Testator or person making the will must sign the will in the presence of 2 witnesses. The witnesses must be present in the same room as the Testator when he or she signs. Once the Testator has signed the will then both witnesses also sign the will. The signing of the will must be carried out simultaneously and at the same time by all concerned.
The effects of the Corona Virus and Lockdown, have led to the signing of wills becoming more difficult because the witnesses to a will must not be beneficiaries of the will or related to beneficiaries of the will. As the majority of people leave their estate to their immediate family, the question of who can safely be in the same room as the Testator if they are not in the same family or bubble has led to people signing wills at home and errors occurring with the witnessing of the wills due to social distancing.
The Government is planning to introduce a new law which allows wills to be witnessed remotely over video calls such as Zoom, Facetime or Skype. The legislation is due to be passed by Parliament next month and will be backdated to 31st January 2020 and will remain in place until January 2022.
This means that the Testator can be on a video call with 2 witnesses who must be able to see and hear the Testator sign the will on the call. The will is then sent to the witnesses for them to sign and the document will be legally valid.
Whilst this is a revolutionary step and move forward there are concerns that the will once signed has to be posted to the witnesses which will cause a delay in the will being finally executed and can potentially lead to disputes if the Testator were to sadly pass away before the will was fully executed.
Using video calls makes it far more difficult for witnesses or indeed the person drafting the will to be 100% certain that there is not anybody off-camera prompting the Testator or applying any undue influence.
It is for these reasons that the witnessing of wills via video call is to be used as a last resort only.
After January 2022 the witnessing of wills will revert back to being covered by the 1837 Wills Act and will require all parties to be present in the same room at the same time when signing and witnessing the will.
Article by Helen Springthorpe Solicitor