The Wills Act 1837 explains that in order for a Will to be recognised as valid, it needs to be signed and witnessed. It states that the person making the Will, the Testator, must sign in the physical presence of two adult witnesses, who must also sign in the presence of the Testator.
When these rules were put in place, there was little consideration made to whether people not physically present at the signing could be regarded as a witness. Fast forward nearly two centuries and advances in technology have made this possible.
Given the restrictions and social distancing guidelines that were imposed earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, being physically present has been an issue in the signing of Wills. Many people either postponed signing their Wills until restrictions eased, or conducted socially distanced signing meetings, often having witnesses looking through a window so that they could see the actual signing but where the Testator remained indoors to shield themselves.
The temporary change in the law now allows for the witnesses to see the Testator sign the Will over a video-link, such as Zoom, Skype or WhatsApp, and then for the Will to be sent to them to sign separately, with the Testator viewing the witnesses signing over a video call. The change has been applied retrospectively, meaning that Wills signed with the witnesses viewing over video link can be accepted as legitimate, if done correctly, since 31 January 2020, and the temporary change shall be in place until 31 January 2022.
Although this temporary change is recognised as a positive and pragmatic update to the rules, which at times do not feel in keeping with the technology we have in the 21st century, there are still a number of requirements that need to be met in order for the Will to be valid. An incorrectly signed and witnessed Will could render the entire Will invalid, potentially resulting in your estate is passed under intestacy rules.
We would always advise that you prepare your Will following using a solicitor to ensure the correct steps are taken so your family members and friends are able to act upon your wishes. If you have any queries on this then please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Private Wealth team who would be happy to talk you through the necessary steps to making a valid Will. We can also conduct our meetings over video call.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.