At the beginning of lockdown back in March 2020, the impact of Coronavirus on private wealth practice was a concern. This was particularly so in relation to the witnessing of wills, as the Wills Act had not been updated since 1837 and did not cater for global pandemics.
It is therefore welcome news that the Government are set to establish legislation on the witnessing of wills via video-conferencing. The Government have stated that the new legislation recognises the increasing number of people who have sought to make Wills during the COVID-19 pandemic. For people who are shielding or self-isolating, it is challenging to follow the legal requirements set out in the existing Act.
In response to this, the Act will be amended to state that whilst the legislation remains in force, the ‘presence’ of those making and witnessing wills includes a virtual presence, via video link, as an alternative to physical presence.
The legislation will apply to wills made since 31 January 2020 and will be in force for two years (until 31 January 2022), however this can be shortened or extended if deemed necessary, in line with the approach adopted for other coronavirus legislative measures.
Under the existing Wills Act 1837, a will is only valid if it is signed in the presence of two independent witnesses and a witness must have a ‘clear line of sight’ of the will-making signing, and vice versa. This still applies in the new legislation, ‘the type of video-conferencing or device used is not important, as long as the person making the will and their witnesses each have a clear line of sight of the writing of the signature’.
If possible, the whole video-signing and witnessing process should be recorded and the recording retained as this could assist in Court if the will were to be challenged in the future.
Our Private Wealth & Tax team have experienced an influx of clients eager to proceed with their estate planning documents.
With this new legislation, we hope that this brings our clients more confidence to finalise matters, whilst remaining safe and following social distancing guidelines.
If you have any queries regarding your personal estate planning, we would be delighted to have a consultation with you.