The Government is to pass legislation in September that will make the remote witnessing of Wills legal.
This will include the witnessing of Wills by video.
Currently, the law states that a will must be made ‘in the presence of’ at least two witnesses. However, with people isolating due to Covid-19, some have turned to virtual means. The Government has decided that Wills witnessed in such a way will be deemed legal, as long as the quality of the sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what is happening at the time.
Two witnesses will still be required, and the measure will be backdated to 31 January – the date of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the UK. The change will remain in place until 31 January 2022, or as long as deemed necessary, after which Wills must return to being made with witnesses who are physically present.
Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said:
“The government’s decision to allow wills to be witnessed remotely for the next two years will help alleviate the difficulties that some members of the public have encountered when making wills during the pandemic.
“The Law Society is glad to see that guidance has been issued to minimise fraud and abuse. We look forward to working with government to ensure the reform is robust and successful.”
Remember A Charity has also welcomed the announcement. Since the pandemic took hold in the UK in mid-March, it has received twice as much traffic to the ‘Making a Will’ section of its website as demand for Will-writing and charitable bequest services has risen.
Rob Cope, Director of Remember A Charity, said that the move could be major step forward for legacy giving, provided safeguards are met.
“Modernisation of UK Will-making is long overdue and, although the changes announced today are temporary measures, this could be a major step forward for legacy giving, making it easier for people to set out their final wishes. Ultimately, the more people that write a Will, the greater the potential for including a charitable donation. Even a small increase in the proportion of people leaving a gift in their Will could generate millions for good causes each year.”
“But, as is so often the case, the devil is in the detail. The Will-making environment needs to have rigour, with sufficient safeguards in place to protect the public, particularly those who may be vulnerable. Video is a great option when witnesses can’t be physically present, but it does needs to be treated cautiously, with care and consideration. And the role of legal and financial advisers will be critical in helping the public finalise their wishes legally, minimising the likelihood of dispute.”
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