trustee tesponsibilities

Wills And A New Way

The government has confirmed that new legislation will enable people making Wills to have those Wills witnessed via video- link.

This might not seem all that dramatic a development to the tech-savvy among us whose lives now routinely involve Zoom, FaceTime and the like. But it is a move that significantly relaxes the rule that requires a Will to be witnessed ‘in the presence of’ at least two witnesses at the same time. Being present has usually meant being physically present – being alongside the Will-maker, in the same physical space.

There are very good reasons for having strict rules around the making and witnessing of a Will. Where people’s post-death wishes are being recorded, it is vital that everything is above board and that the risk of that person having been pressured in one way or another, or of the Will having been forged, is minimised. Having two witnesses on hand (crucially, each with a clear line of sight of the Will-maker signing the Will) is one really important aspect of this, without which the Will will not be valid.

But COVID-19 has put obstacles in the way of people who have wanted to make or update their Will (witnessing is required for both). While my team and I have been able to prepare Wills for clients during lockdown and beyond, getting those Wills witnessed has been challenging or impossible for people who have been isolating or shielding. Some have been happy to have their Wills witnessed through a closed window or an open door, but many have held off from this final, crucial, part of the process.

Recognising this difficulty, the government has now said that Wills made between 31 January 2020 and 31 January 2022 will be considered valid (assuming everything else about them and their making is in line with the law) if they have been properly witnessed via video-link. While the type of video-conferencing used doesn’t seem to matter, the link must be ‘live’; the witnesses must actually see the Will being signed, as opposed to witnessing a recording of the signature.  And, as always, there must be a clear line of sight – something that all involved must be careful to ensure at the time.

This will be welcomed by all those who have been wanting to make or update their Will to reflect their current circumstances, but who feared having to come into contact with witnesses in order to do so. It is something that I also think is a hugely helpful move, in that it will hopefully encourage people to plan for the future by further removing obstacles to making a Will. We all know that many people put this off, and I firmly believe the easier we can make the process, the better.

That is of course with the proviso that the right protections against fraud and undue influence remain very much at the heart of this. There must be confidence in the system, and those making Wills need to be assured not only that their wishes will be carried through but also that those wishes will be those they genuinely hold (something that family members will be keen to ensure, too).

The proper and lawful witnessing of Wills is one part of this. And while people who are able to have their Wills witnessed in the conventional way are encouraged to do so, this new option of video-linking should have some really positive effects on those who would otherwise struggle to finalise their Wills at this time, and on the futures of their loved ones.

For help with preparing your Will, or for advice about any aspect of Wills and Probate, contact us 0808 256 2917 or email [email protected].