The Government has announced that the temporary legislation to allow remote witnessing of Wills in light of the Coronavirus pandemic is to stay in force until 2024.
On 7th September 2020, the ‘Wills Act (Electronic Communications) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Order 2020 SI 2020/952’ was put before Parliament to allow for remote witnessing of Wills. This subsequently came into force on 28th September 2020 and is now due to end on 31st January 2024.
The extension was initially put in place to account for those who needed to isolate due to COVID-19.
Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab said: “This is a common-sense measure that will give vulnerable people peace of mind that their wills are recognised if they are forced to have them witnessed via video due to isolation”.
Whilst the extension allows for the witnessing of Wills via video calls. There are no changes to the requirement for Wills to be traditionally signed, meaning that it has to be circulated amongst the parties for signatures.
Research conducted by the Law Society uncovered that having used the ability to witness wills remotely, 14% of legal professionals who had been involved in the making of Wills since the change, have used the ability to witness wills remotely. Of the Solicitors who used remote witnessing 78% described it as a positive or neutral experience. Whilst 58% admitted that they would continue to use it if it remained an option post-pandemic.
If using the remote signing option, there are stipulations that must be followed.
- The Testator’s hand must be clearly in the frame, with the document also visible.
- The process must be uninterrupted.
- The quality of the video must allow for the whole process to be seen by the witnesses.
The Will itself isn’t legally binding when witnessed remotely until it has been signed by the Testator and witnesses. This means, there is a risk in opting for this method of execution. If the Testator is having to isolate, they have to find a way to deliver the Will to the witnesses.