A Statutory Instrument allowing for Wills to be witnessed virtually in England and Wales has been laid in the House of Commons and will come into effect on 28th September 2020.
Although this will become law at the end of the month it will be backdated to 31 January 2020 and is set to expire in January 2022, however the measures can be shortened or extended if deemed necessary. This means that any Wills virtually witnessed via video-link after 31 January 2020 should now be deemed valid. However the video and audio quality must be (or have been) sufficient to have ‘clear line of sight’ of the Will being signed.
Since 1837 the Law surrounding the execution of a Will has required the will-maker to sign in the physical presence of at least two witnesses, to witness alongside the testator in order to safeguard against the possibility of fraud or undue influence. The COVID-19 pandemic has understandably led to a surge in Will writing but at the same time seen strict social distancing measures implemented that made the physical witnessing of a Will very difficult, although not impossible as we have been advising clients.
Although Probate Solicitors have welcomed the long overdue change in the legislation, there needs to be greater clarity on when remote witnessing is appropriate and what to do in exceptional circumstances. Some solicitors have warned that the reforms could lead to a spike in contentious probate cases.
According to government guidance, they are advising that people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of Wills where it is possible to do so safely and that witnessing by video should remain a last resort.