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Video-witnessed Wills legalisation extended

It’s been done on driveways, over garden fences, on car windscreens. Covid has taught us many things, including that when a Will needs to be witnessed, a way will be found.

In January this year, the government announced that it would be extending the measures that gave some people who were making Wills a far more straightforward way of having them witnessed. The introduction of video-witnessing in September 2020 was set to apply to Wills made between 31 January 2020 and 31 January 2022. A further two years has now been added to that timeframe, meaning vulnerable people (including people who are forced to isolate because of Covid) in England and Wales will, as a last resort, be able to have their Will witnessed by video-link up until 2024.

It’s a move we welcome. While the number of our clients who have been forced to use video-link is relatively small, the fact that this is in place if it’s needed is hugely reassuring. Will-witnessing usually requires two witnesses to be physically present in the same space as the person making the Will. For those who cannot come into close contact with others while Covid looms, the ability to carry out this essential formality via live video (subject to safeguards that prevent undue influence and fraud) means there are no delays. A Will can be prepared by a solicitor and the witnessing can quickly follow. And in some cases, where time is of the essence, this could mean the difference between someone dying with a Will in place and without.

The main benefit of making a Will is certainty that assets will be dealt with as you’d like them to be after you have passed away. The alternative – intestacy – can lead to very different outcomes. These can include assets going to the ‘wrong’ people, and loved ones finding themselves harder hit by tax liabilities that come from an estate that had not been arranged before its owner’s death.

So the case for making a Will is strong. And it’s also so important to keep your Will up-to-date, as changed family and financial circumstances can mean Wills drafted many years ago are either no longer appropriate or don’t lead to the most favourable position for family members. Extending the video-link witnessing provision is (alongside other available online facilities) another step in the right direction towards removing barriers for people keen to get their affairs in order.

But will video-links will remain a possibility beyond 2024, or will they become filed under ‘Covid-19’? We’ll have to wait and see.

To speak to us about making or updating a Will, or about any other aspect of future planning, contact Emma Howlett or a member of the Private Client team on 0808 256 2917