Final wishes recorded over Zoom: Law change in England and Wales means wills can be witnessed via video link until 2022 as Covid battle continues
- Government announces wills witnessed on video calls will be legally recognised
- Move comes as people turn to platforms like Zoom and Facetime in lockdown
- The new law will be back-dated to January 31 when UK’s first coronavirus case was recorded and will remain in place until 2022 or ‘as long as necessary’
The Government is set to legalise the remote witnessing of wills to make it easier for people to record their final wishes during the coronavirus pandemic.
The new law will be backdated to January 31 and will remain in place as long as necessary, the government has said as they move to reassure the 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.
The Government has now announced that wills witnessed over video calls will be legally recognised as more people rely on platforms like Zoom and FaceTime because of lockdown
However during lockdown, many people have turned to video link software as a solution – using platforms like Zoom or FaceTime.
Today, ministers have announced that as long as the quality of the sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what is happening at the time, wills witnessed over video calls will be deemed legal.
These changes will be made via new legislation in September, which amends the law to include video-witnessing.
The new rules maintain the vital safeguard of requiring two witnesses – protecting people against undue influence and fraud.
Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, said: ‘We are pleased that more people are taking the incredibly important step to plan for the future by making a will.
The law currently says you must:
Be 18 or over
Make it voluntarily
Be of sound mind
Make it in writing
Sign it in the presence of two witnesses who are both over 18
Have it signed by your two witnesses, in your presence
You cannot leave your witnesses (or their married partners) anything in your 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 January 31 – 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 January 31 2022, or as long as deemed necessary, after which wills must return to being made with witnesses who are physically present.
The Government has said 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.
Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Robert Buckland, pictured, has said the law will be backdated to January 31 2020 and will remain in place until 2022 or as long as necessary
Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, 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 the public 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, a professional body comprising lawyers and accountants, added: ‘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.’