17 September 2020
New Rules Allow Wills To Be Witnessed At A Distance
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed a flaw in the law relating to wills. The difficulties faced by families in visiting and contacting elderly relatives has been widely reported, and there have been similar problems when having a will witnessed. The law on wills – which dates back nearly 200 years – demands that witnesses must be physically present when the will is signed. In some cases this has been impossible during the pandemic.
The problem is particularly acute for the elderly. Many older people want to change their wills – or even make their first will. If they cannot be physically present with other people due to social distancing or shielding rules, how can their will be witnessed?
How The Law Will Be Changed
The Government has now responded to demands for a change in the law. Campaigners had been pushing for the rules to be relaxed, to allow a will to be witnessed remotely, i.e. by a video link. The Government has announced that it will amend the law so that wills can be witnessed via videoconferencing or other visual transmission.
The new rules come into force on 28 September 2020, but they are retrospective, and cover wills made from 31 January 2020. It means that those who chose to have their will witnessed remotely, while also obeying lockdown rules limiting social contact, can be reassured that their will is valid.
Problems Of Validity?
However the question of validity remains a concern for many. While video-conferencing and e-signature capability has made this change in the law feasible, it is unclear whether problems with technology when signing or witnessing a will could give grounds for it to be challenged. It is tempting to assume that such issues will simply be ‘ironed out’ as the technology gets more widely used. But it is difficult have faith in an infant technology which is so potentially uncertain and unreliable.
Many people making a will might prefer to have their will witnessed by people who are physically present – but at a social distance.
For more information on making a will, click here.