Warning that English wills may not be valid in Scotland
Legal professionals across the UK have seen a marked increase in estate planning instructions from existing and new clients during…More
Video-witnessed wills are to be made legal during the coronavirus pandemic, ministers have announced.
Existing legislation (the Wills Act 1837) states that a will must be made “in the presence of” at least two witnesses. The new rules, however, will allow signatures to be witnessed via video-conferencing software such as Zoom and Skype.
The reforms will be introduced via statutory instrument in September and backdated to 31 January 2020, the date of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the UK. Any will witnessed by video conferencing from that date will be deemed valid, providing the quality of sound and video are adequate.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said the statutory instrument would remain in place until 31 January 2022 or as long as is deemed necessary.
Welcoming the decision, Law Society president Simon Davis commented: “The government’s decision to allow wills to be witnessed remotely for the next two years will help alleviate the difficulties that some members of the public have encountered when making wills during the pandemic. The Law Society is glad to see that guidance has been issued to minimise fraud and abuse. We look forward to working with government to ensure the reform is robust and successful.”
Some legal professionals have, however, suggested the new legislation could cause an uptick in probate litigation. Charles Hutton, partner at international firm Charles Russell Speechlys, told the Law Society Gazette: “It is welcome news that the government has relaxed the rules about the witnessing of wills, bringing England in line with many other countries.
“However, concerns remain that this process will be open to abuse. How are the witnesses to know that, just out of camera shot, there is not someone putting pressure on the testator to sign? Admittedly, the current system is not perfect, but we may see a spike of undue influence cases following the deaths of those who have signed their wills in this way.”
The government has stated the use of video technology should remain a last resort. Its official guidance on making wills using video-conferencing can he found here.