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Campaigners have called on the government to make oral wills legal during the coronavirus pandemic, just as they would be in some wartime scenarios.
Among those spearheading the campaign are businesswoman Gina Miller and human rights advocate Baroness Helena Kennedy QC.
The request comes amid ongoing concerns that existing rules, which stipulate wills must be in writing and signed by two independent witnesses, are incompatible with social distancing measures.
Miller said: “We cannot allow existing rules about the drafting and witnessing of wills, which are sensible and proportionate in peacetime, to preclude people making adequate provision for those they leave behind. There may be those who say oral wills will be open to abuse, but modern technology allows encryption and other online security measures, to address and minimise these risks.”
Kennedy added: “We should learn lessons from the bedside wills that an earlier generation of heroes were able to benefit from during the Second World War. This generation is no less valiant, or deserving of the dignity and peace of mind that putting their affairs in order will bring.”
Under existing rules a will needs to be witnessed by two people who are not its beneficiaries. However, the Wills Act 1837 contains provisions for the “privileged will”, which in certain circumstances allows members of the armed forces to make a written or oral will without witnesses.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is currently assessing potential options regarding wills, including the use of video witnessing.