Ministry of Justice
Video-witnessed wills to be made legal during coronavirus pandemic
The Government is to legalise the remote witnessing of wills – making it easier for people to record their final wishes during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Government plans law change to allow wills to be witnessed virtually in England and Wales
- Reforms will be backdated to 31 January 2020 and will remain in place as long as necessary
- New laws to reassure public that wills witnessed via video link are legally recognised
Currently, the law states that a will must be made ‘in the presence of’ at least two witnesses. However while isolating or shielding some people have understandably turned to video link software as a solution – for example via platforms such as Zoom or FaceTime.
Ministers recently (25 July) acted to reassure the public that wills witnessed in such a way will be deemed legal, as long as the quality of the sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what is happening at the time.
These changes will be made via new legislation in September, which amends the law to include video-witnessing.
Crucially, the move maintains the vital safeguard of requiring two witnesses – protecting people against undue influence and fraud.
Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, recently said:
We are pleased that more people are taking the incredibly important step to plan for the future by making a will.
We know that the pandemic has made this process more difficult, which is why we are changing law to ensure that wills witnessed via video technology are legally recognised.
Our measures will give peace of mind to many that their last wishes can still be recorded during this challenging time, while continuing to protect the elderly and vulnerable.
The measures will be backdated to 31 January 2020 – the date of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the UK – meaning any will witnessed by video technology from that date onwards will be legally accepted. The change will remain in place until 31 January 2022, or as long as deemed necessary, after which wills must return to being made with witnesses who are physically present.
The use of video technology should remain a last resort, and people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of wills where it is safe to do so. Wills witnessed through windows are already considered legitimate in case law as long as they have clear sight of the person signing it.
Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, recently said:
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 thepublic 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.
Emily Deane, Technical Counsel at STEP, recently said:
We are delighted that the Government has responded to the industry’s calls to allow will witnessing over video conference. By removing the need for any physical witnesses, wills can continue to be drawn up efficiently, effectively and safely by those isolating.
STEP also welcomes the move to apply this retrospectively, which will provide reassurance to anyone who has had no choice but to execute a will in this manner prior to this legislation being enacted. We hope the policy will continue to evolve and enable more people to execute a will at this difficult time.
Notes to Editors:
- Legislation via a Statutory Instrument will be laid in September and made retrospective to 31 January 2020. The measures will apply to England & Wales and remain in place until January 2022 however they can be shortened or extended if deemed necessary. After this point wills would return to being made with witnesses who are physically present.
- The new law will amend the Wills Act 1837 to stipulate that where wills must be signed in the ‘presence’ of at least two witnesses, their presence can be either physical or virtual.
- Wills still need to be signed by two witnesses who are not its beneficiaries and electronic signatures will not be permitted.
- In the longer term the Government will be considering wider reforms to the law on making wills and responding to a forthcoming Law Commission report. The Law Commission has been consulted in the development of the Government’s response to this issue.
- Official guidance on making wills using video-conferencing
Latest News from
Ministry of Justice
New ‘Nightingale Court’ opens at University of Hull19/01/2021 15:15:15
University of Hull has opened its doors as a ‘Nightingale Court’, joining the national effort to tackle the impact of coronavirus on the justice system.
Women in Technology19/01/2021 12:33:00
Blog posted by: Eloise Tait, 18 January 2021 – Categories: Our People, Women in Tech.
Secure video calls help all prisoners maintain essential family ties during pandemic19/01/2021 08:15:00
Secure video calls rolled out in all prisons in just over 6 months to maintain vital family contact.
Lord Chancellor demands immediate improvements at Rainsbrook18/01/2021 13:15:00
The Lord Chancellor recently (15 January 2021) reassured Ofsted that immediate improvements are being made at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Warwickshire, which is run by private contractor MTC.
What it's like to support Prisons and Probation through WebOps15/01/2021 15:15:15
Blog posted by: Ewa Stempel, 13 January 2021 – Categories: Digital skills, Our services, WebOps.
Our lockdown experiences...Reflections on living through a pandemic14/01/2021 13:15:00
Blog posted by: Jenni Moss, 13 January 2021 – Categories: Covid-19, Our People, Wellbeing.
Lord Chancellor: It’s time for action on mental health in prisons13/01/2021 14:15:00
The Lord Chancellor sets out how the government plans to support people with neurodivergent conditions such as autism and dyslexia, as well as those with acute mental health problems, within the criminal justice system.
New Independent Monitoring Authority goes live on 31 December 202031/12/2020 13:10:00
The Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements (IMA) becomes operational at the end of the transition period.