Video witnessing of wills extended

A Will is a document by which someone states what they want to happen to their assets after they die.

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A Will is a document by which someone states what they want to happen to their assets after they die. As such, it is a very important document and there are very strict requirements as to how a Will must be signed which have not changed for hundreds of years. In essence, a Will must be signed in the 'presence' of at least two witnesses which, until very recently, has always meant that the person signing the Will and the witnesses must be physically present in the room with each other.

The arrival of Covid-19, lockdowns and strict social distancing requirements made it very difficult for people to sign their Wills. Accordingly, in 2020, the government made what was initially intended to be a temporary announcement which allowed wills to be witnessed via video link. However, in January 2022, the government announced that 'vulnerable people across England and Wales will continue to be able to have their Wills witnessed via video-link up until [31 January] 2024…To protect people against undue influence and fraud, two witnesses are still required and virtual witnessing is only recognised if the quality of the sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what is happening'.

The government has issued specific guidance on how video witnessing of Wills should work including, crucially, a requirement that after the call by video link when the witnesses have seen the signatory sign the Will, the Will document should then be taken to the witnesses for them to sign, ideally within 24-hours. They must sign the same document as the person making the Will. The government points out that a longer period of time may be unavoidable but 'it should be borne in mind that the longer this process takes, the greater the potential for problems to arise'.  Remember also that if the person making the Will dies before the full process is concluded, a partly completed Will is not legally effective.

The correct signing and witnessing of a Will is essential for its validity. If it is only discovered after death that the Will has not been signed properly, it could be invalid meaning that the deceased's assets have to be divided in accordance with a strict list of entitlement called the intestacy rules. This could result in completely different people benefiting from the estate of the deceased.

Accordingly, anyone wishing to make a Will should consider taking specialist legal advice. The content of the Will itself must be technically correct but it can be seen that if the Will is not properly signed and witnessed, whether using video link or not, the effort of making the Will could be wasted.

To discuss this or any other private client matter, contact us.

Members: Simon Shaw, Elizabeth Rimell and Janice Leyland.
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