Witnessing a will before COVIDBefore COVID-19 swept across the country, the rules around witnessing your will were simple:
- You’d sign and date the will in front of two independent witnesses
- Your witnesses would sign, date, and address the will
- And you all had to be present in the same room at the same time when this happened
Social distancing and ‘stay at home’ orders impacted that final requirement, and rather than prevent wills from being updated or created during such a tense and stressful time, the laws were updated.
In late 2020, the government announced the decision to shake-up the existing Wills Act, allowing ‘the ‘presence’ of those making and witnessing wills to include a virtual presence, via video-link, as an alternative to physical presence.’
And where possible, the government has tried to keep the law as close to the original as it can.
This change was back-dated to all wills and codicils written after January 31st 2020 – with the government extending this to at least January 31st 2024.
How video-witnessing impacts youVideo-witnessing is a major shake-up for the legal system, but what does that actually mean for you?
You have a broader choice of witnesses
They don’t have to read the will themselves. They just need to be sure you knew the contents of the will and weren’t forced to sign it.
Any witness must also be:
- 18 or over
- Of sound mind
- Not named as a beneficiary in the will
With the introduction of witnessing via video-link, you could now have a much bigger (and potentially better) pool of witnesses, since location is no longer an issue. If you weren’t sure who to use as a witness or had no-one appropriate nearby, you now have more choice.
You can still use video-witnesses after lockdown
Under current plans, video-witnessing ends on January 31st 2024, exactly four years after the first COVID-19 case was identified in the UK.
However, the government could possibly extend this further, ‘in line with the approach adopted for other coronavirus legislative measures.’
Your statement is changed
We’ve all heard stories of court cases that hinge on the interpretation of certain words, or workers winning a pay dispute thanks to an Oxford comma.
Because of this, there’s been a slight tweak to the statement you’ll sign. The document will now say something along the lines of, ‘‘I, [your name], wish to make a will of my own free will and sign it here before these witnesses, who are witnessing me doing this remotely’.
There’s no one phrase your solicitor or will-writer must use, so long as it’s clear the will was signed virtually.
You have a choice of technology
It makes it a lot easier to get your will sorted. Technology can be a finicky thing at the best of times, without making sure everyone’s downloading the right software on the right bit of kit. Most computers, phones, and tablets have cameras and apps to allow video-links, so once again, it doesn’t restrict who can witness your will.
Remember, a will must be witnessed in real-time. Your witnesses can’t watch a pre-recorded video of you signing your will, and it’s recommended to record the entire session for future reference.
You don’t have to use video-witnesses
Even social distancing can’t prevent traditional witnessing of a will. That’s because the priority for witnesses is to have a ‘clear line of sight’ of you as you sign. It means they can witness from another room with an open door, from a car, or through the window while outside an office or home. Some firms have even begun offering ‘drive-thru’ will signings and witnessing.
Whatever you and your witnesses feel comfortable doing, is fine.
Chat to a solicitor or will writerWould you prefer traditional or remote witnessing? The choice is yours – and most solicitors and will-writers will be happy to help. You can always have a chat with them to find the best option, keeping you and your witnesses safe without invalidating your will.
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