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A statutory instrument legalising video-witnessed wills is due to come into force at the end of September.
In an order laid in the House of Commons this week, lord chancellor Robert Buckland temporarily amended the Wills Act of 1837 to allow wills to be witnessed via “videoconferencing or other visual transmission”.
The reforms will be backdated to 31 January 2020, when the UK saw its first confirmed coronavirus case, meaning that any will witnessed by video technology from that date onwards will be legally accepted, providing the quality of the sound and video are adequate.
The statutory instrument is scheduled to remain in place until 31 January 2022, although the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) says it may extend or shorten the measures as it sees fit.
Government guidance also stipulates that video-witnessed wills should only be used as a last resort and people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of wills where possible (and safe to do so).
An MoJ spokesperson told the Law Society Gazette: “We know the pandemic has made it more difficult to make a will. That’s why we are changing the law to ensure video-witnessed wills are legally recognised. These changes will give peace of mind to many that their last wishes can still be recorded while maintaining all the existing safeguards against fraud or disputes.”
Some legal professionals however suggest the reforms may result in a surge in contentious probate cases. The Wills Act 1837 stipulated that two witnesses have to be in the physical presence of the testator, to protect people against fraud and undue influence.