Richard Ostle, Private Client Partner, discusses new developments on video link Wills.
The government has announced that it intends to bring into force a new law which will allow people to create a valid Will using video link technology.
The existing law, which has been in place since 1837, requires a Will to be signed in the physical presence of 2 independent witnesses in order to be valid. During the Coronavirus lockdown many people have found it difficult to comply with the existing rules and the intention is that now, for the first time, the two witnesses can observe the Will being signed remotely, by video link.
The new law is due to come into force in September 2020, but is also intended to be retrospective so that it will be able to apply to Wills made in England and Wales from 31 January 2020. At present the proposal is that this change to the law will only be temporary, and will be in force only until 31 January 2022.
Where feasible, people wishing to make Wills should continue to arrange a physical meeting with their two independent witnesses at the point of signature. Recently released guidance from the government suggests that provided there is a clear line of sight between the person signing the Will and their witnesses, the Will should be accepted as valid even if the three people involved are not in the same room. This would include the following scenarios, all of which have arisen during the pandemic due to physical distancing requirements:
- witnessing through a window or open door of a house or a vehicle
- witnessing from a corridor or adjacent room into a room with the door open
- witnessing outdoors from a short distance, for example in a garden
If however none of these options are possible, the new rules are expected to permit the witnesses to watch the Will being signed in real time by video link. Both witnesses will still need to sign the Will, ideally within 24 hours after the person making the Will has signed. Only when both witnesses have also signed would the new Will be considered as valid.
Although this change to the rules on will-making is a positive development, the detail of how to ensure that a Will being witnessed by video link would definitely be accepted as valid is yet to be fully clarified. The government guidance recommends that anyone intending to rely upon this process should first consult a solicitor.