The Government is changing the law in September to allow people to use video conference technology, such as Skype and Zoom, when witnessing Will signing. The law change will be backdated to Wills made since 31st January 2020, which was the date of the first registered Covid-19 case in England and Wales.
During the current Covid-19 pandemic, it has been challenging for some people shielding or self-isolating to obtain two people to physically witnesses the signing of their Will. The new changes amend the Wills Act 1837 so that where Wills must be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses, their presence can be either physical or virtual.
Although the new rules allowing virtual witnessing have been welcomed by some in the profession, the new rules also present a range of new challenges and potential pitfalls which can effect Will validity and may increase inheritance disputes.
Outlined below are four challenges to consider when carrying out virtual Will witnessing:
- Once the individual (called ‘the Testator’) has signed their Will which has been virtually witnessed by two individuals, the Will must be sent in the post or physically taken to the two witnesses for their hardcopy signature. This raises concerns on how the Will is to be transported by the vulnerable individual to the witnesses. Electronic signatures will not be permitted.
- Each witness must sign their signature via video conferencing in the presence of the Testator. Therefore multiple video conferences will be required which will be time consuming.
- The Will is only valid and legal once all hardcopy signatures have been obtained in the one document, which will cause issues if the Testator dies before the Will is fully signed, or if the Will becomes lost in the post.
- It is not possible to ensure that the Testator is alone in the virtual environment when signing their Will and it is therefore difficult to check whether there is any undue influence on the Testator to sign the will.
It is still possible for Wills to be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses physically in a socially distant manner during the current Covid-19 pandemic. It is important that the two witnesses have a clear line of sight when witnessing the Testators signature which can occur outside in accordance with the two meter distancing rules.
If you have any questions regarding the changes mentioned above, please do not hesitate to contact Charlotte Cooper or another member of the private client team at Moon Beever LLP.