The law of wills in England and Wales is to be amended to allow the remote electronic witnessing of wills under certain conditions. This change is to have retrospective effect from 31 January 2020, in order to reassure the public in respect of any wills that may have been remotely attested during the coronavirus pandemic.
The existing law of wills, set out in the Wills Act 1837, states that a will must be executed by the testator “in the presence of at least two witnesses being together at the same time”. However, the Ministry of Justice has now officially declared that wills witnessed by video link will be deemed legal, as long as the quality of the sound and video is sufficient for the parties to see and hear what is happening at the time. In effect, the phrase ‘in the presence of’ can now mean either physical or virtual via video link.
The new amended law is scheduled to be kept in place until 31 January 2022, or as long or as short as deemed necessary. However, after this period ends, wills must return to being made with witnesses who are physically present in the usual way. It must be highlighted that remote witnessing is only being authorised as a ‘last resort’ and caution must be taken when using this method. In light of this, testators are advised to arrange physical witnessing of wills, where safe, in order to reduce the possibility of fraud or undue influence.
Where remote witnessing is used, it is still the case that the witnesses must understand that they are witnessing and acknowledging the signing of the document. Under no circumstances will it be permissible for a pre-recorded video of a signing to be witnessed. More information can be found on Gov.uk see Video-witnessed wills to be made legal during coronavirus and Guidance on making wills using video-conferencing