New rules allowing wills to be witnessed using video conferencing technology are set to be introduced in September, as the government attempts to streamline probate legislation in the face of Covid-19. Using software such as Zoom, Facetime and Skype, once an individual has signed their will it can be posted to witnesses for them to counter-sign it during a live web conference. The changes will be backdated to 31st January 2020, when the first virus cases in the UK were confirmed, so that any will correctly witnessed by video technology after that date will be legally accepted.
The Wills Act of 1837 states that two witnesses must be physically present when an individual signs their will, so as to protect against fraud and intimidation. In announcing the new rule the Ministry of Justice said that the measure will remain in place until 31st January, 2022, but stressed that the use of video technology in will signing should be used only as a last resort.
The Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC, said: ‘We are pleased that more people are taking the incredibly important step to plan for the future by making a will. We know that the pandemic has made this process more difficult, which is why we are changing law to ensure that wills witnessed via video technology are legally recognised.’
However, many solicitors are wary of the change, fearing the arrangements will be open to abuse and will lead to an increase in inheritance disputes. They warn that video witnessed wills could be lost in the post, the person who has made the will could die before the witnessing process has been completed, or that undue influence may be exerted to secure a will in their favour by people off-camera. In addition, there are concerns over how people who are shielding would pass on their will to witnesses. Should they leave home to post the will, or allow someone to come to them to collect it? In the latter case the witnesses could probably have signed the will in person at the property.
Solicitors claim that where a will is disputed the evidence of a remote witness may not be as convincing as it would be if they had witnessed the will in person. Many also argue that the change is not actually necessary since solicitors have continued to support the proper signing of wills with home visits, where they can witness clients signing their wills in accordance with safety and distancing measures.
Commenting on the temporary changes, Law Society President Simon Davis said: “Although the government’s decision to allow remote witnessing will simplify will making for some during the pandemic and guidance has been issued to minimise fraud and abuse, the government needs to ensure the legislation is properly drafted to minimise unintended consequences and ensure validity.”
At Bretherton Law we have been helping the people of Hertfordshire to manage their affairs for over 50 years. Our expert team can guide you through the Will Writing process, as well as dealing with Lasting Powers of Attorney, Court of Protection, trust or probate services on your behalf. Contact Anne Stockley on 01727 869293 or via the contact form below.