How Covid changed the way we witness wills

In Drafting a will

When the coronavirus pandemic took hold, it presented a challenge for solicitors, will-writers, and those looking to write a will – and it brought about a major change in the law: video-witnessing.

Witnessing a will before COVID

Before 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 – and it’s set to last for two years, at least.
 

How video-witnessing impacts you

Video-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

Choosing a witness is an important part of writing your will. If your will is later contested, your witnesses will need to state that, yes, they saw you voluntarily sign the will and you knew what you were doing.
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
  • Independent
  • Trustworthy
  • 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

The government’s ‘roadmap’ out of the pandemic should see the country open up in the summer. But even when lockdown draws to a close, you’ll still be able to have witnesses via video-link – not least because some measures, such as social distancing and mask-wearing, may stick around for longer.

Under current plans, video-witnessing ends on January 31st 2022, exactly two years after the first COVID-19 case was identified in the UK.

However, the government could possibly extend, or – unlikely though it is – even shorten, this ‘in line with the approach adopted for other coronavirus legislative measures.’
 
  • Your statement is changed

The law is built on language. It’s partly why using a solicitor or will-writer to write your will is preferred, especially for large or complex estates.

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

The law is clear: will-makers and remote witnesses don’t have to use a specific device or software.

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

While witnessing via video-link is now legal, it’s not mandatory. In fact, the government advises that ‘where people can make wills in the conventional way, they should continue to do so.’

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-writer

Would 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.

The Law Superstore let you connect and compare legal experts across England and Wales. Just give us a few details to compare prices and connect with professionals who will get your will written, witnessed, and signed in whatever way you want.
 
 

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