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Video links to be used with Wills

Changes to the 183-year-old rules on wills, to be announced by the Ministry of Justice, will see legalisation changed to allow wills to be witnessed using video links.

The Wills Act of 1837, passed in the same year Victoria became Queen, has for nearly two centuries stipulated that two witnesses must be physically present to witness the testator’s signature. However, the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing has made it impossible for some people to have their wills witnessed. This has been further complicated during times of self-isolation or treatment in hospital.

Video platforms such as Zoom or Skype will be able to be used by people to sign their wills in the “virtual” presence of two witnesses. The Ministry of Justice will amend the Electronic Communications Act of 2000 which will allow the use of video links for wills. 

Lawyers feared there could be contentious probate claims over lockdown wills witnessed over webcams or because of doubts about witnesses having a line of sight to view signatures due to social distancing. The chairman of the Law Society’s wills and equity committee, Ian Bond, said other legal areas such as contract law had incorporated e-signatures, but not wills.  

He stated, “The Law Commission review had been put in place to look at wills in 2017 and was trundling along, but unfortunately Covid-19 came round before it could make any changes to primary legislation.” In the meantime, he said lawyers had been using their “ingenuity” to help people witness wills, including signing them on car bonnets or watching through a window.”

A government source said, “We will take concrete steps very shortly to deal with issues of wills that have been witnessed remotely during the pandemic. We hope this will alleviate concerns over the validity of wills.”

The changes to allow video witnessing will be time-limited and reviewed in two years’ time when the Law Commission’s proposed modernisation of wills legislation is likely to be completed.

 

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