The Government has legalised video-witnessing of Wills in England and Wales in response to the coronavirus pandemic. This is to make it easier for people to record their final wishes while shielding or observing social distancing measures.
The new legislation will come into force in September 2020, but will be backdated to 31 January 2020. The Government has confirmed that this will be a temporary legislation, but that it will remain in place until 31 January 2022, or for as long as is necessary. The legalisation of video-witnessing is the biggest change that has been made to Will writing in nearly 200 years.
The Government has stressed that Wills should still be witnessed in person wherever possible, with video-witnessing only used as a last resort. Wills can currently be legally witnessed in person from a safe distance as long as everyone has a clear line of sight. This could be done through a window, in a garden or in a separate room through an open door. For more information, see our Guide to Making a Will during Lockdown. If it's really not possible to have the Will witnessed in person, then video-witnessing can be used as an alternative.
Co-op Legal Services Head of Wills, James Antoniou, welcomes the changes, but warns:
"These proposals should be approached with caution, as they will inevitably create a greater risk of uncertainty about whether a virtually witnessed Will has, in fact, been executed properly.
This, in turn, means there's also an increased possibility of Wills that have been made in this way being challenged in the future. It's therefore vital that people putting Wills in place take the right advice, ideally from a legal provider which is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority."
How to Get Your Will Video-Witnessed
For a Will to be legally valid, it needs to be signed in the presence of 2 independent witnesses. Previously, both of these witnesses would need be present in person and be watching while the Will is signed. Each witness would then need to sign the Will in the presence of the other witness and the person making the Will. Under the new legislation, the witnesses don't need to be there in person, but they must still have clear sight of the Will being signed.
Any reliable video conferencing software can be used for this purpose. The witnessing must take place in real time though and witnessing a pre-recorded video is not permitted. It's also recommended that the signing and witnessing of the Will is recorded as evidence, in case the Will is challenged in the future.
Who Can Video-Witness a Will?
The rules around who can act as a witness to a Will have not changed. Both of your witnesses should be independent, be over the age of 18 and be able to fully understand what they are witnessing.
The following individuals should not witness your Will:
- Your family members
- Your beneficiaries
- The husband, wife or civil partner of your beneficiaries
- Someone who is blind or partially sighted
At Co-op Legal Services, our Will Writers can provide practical guidance on how to execute a Will while observing social distancing measures.
For initial advice about making a Will call our Will writers on 03306069591 or contact us online and we will help you.