In these unprecedented times, it seems that the only thing we can be certain of is uncertainty. Covid-19 has affected us all in one way or another. Some have been unwell with the illness or have lost loved ones. Others have been affected by job losses or financial strain on their business. We have also seen unprecedented changes in the way we all work and socialise.
In the legal profession we have seen changes that we never would have imagined happening 6 months ago. One change is the Governments recent announcement that they are to legalise the remote witnessing of wills – making it easier for people to record their final wishes during the coronavirus pandemic.
Currently, when making a Will, the law states that your signature needs to be witnessed by 2 independent witnesses (they must be over 18 and must not be a beneficiary of your Will) However while isolating or shielding some people have understandably turned to video link software as a solution – for example via platforms such as Zoom or FaceTime.
On 25th July Ministers announced 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. We understand that these changes will be made via new legislation being introduced in September and will be backdated to 31 January 2020, which was the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the UK and be in place for a temporary period of time.
Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, said:
“We are pleased that more people are taking the incredibly important step to plan for the future by making a will. We know that the pandemic has made this process more difficult, which is why we are changing the law to ensure that wills witnessed via video technology are legally recognised.”
However, great caution needs to be taken and the use of video technology should remain a last resort. Wills still need to be signed by the testator (the person making the Will) and two witnesses for the Will to be valid and electronic signatures will not be permitted.
Dawson Hart have put new measures in place so that instructions can be taken by phone or video call, so that you do not have to come into the office. We then send you a draft Will for you to review.
As for the signing of your Will we have been able to guide many clients with this over the last 6 months. Whilst the witnesses must watch you sign the Will, they do not have to be right beside you – they could watch you over a garden fence or through a window. If it is not possible for you to find witnesses at home, we have put measures in place for clients to come to the office to sign them without having to come into the office. Will signings have been taking place in our car park through car windows, or through the office windows.
Despite this new announcement regarding virtual will signing, the Government will need to provide greater clarity and we strongly recommend that you take professional advice before proceeding.
If you would like to make a Will or need any other legal assistance then please do not hesitate to contact Laura Manton, Director of Dawson Hart