Changing of the Witnessing of Wills Following Covid-19 – Our Response

Making a will is one of the most important decisions an individual will face in their lifetime, so the recent change in the witnessing of wills has understandably been met with both intrigue and interest.

In response to government restrictions enforced due to Covid-19, the Ministry of Justice has recently confirmed a temporary amendment to the Wills Act 1837, which will enable witnessing to be completed by video rather than in person.

At A M Davies, we have strong reservations about the wisdom of making a will in this way.

Revising the 183-year-old Law

This new measure announced on 25 July is intended to support those who need to self-isolate, allowing for the execution of their wills using technology so all parties can remain shielded. Every other stipulation of the original law will remain the same including providing signatures voluntarily, giving them in writing (digital versions will not be permitted), and the rule that witnesses cannot be beneficiaries under the will.

 

The change will be effective from September 2020 with a provisional expiration date of 31 January 2022, and will only be used as a last resort.

Industry and Public Reaction

Numerous UK solicitors including A M Davies have already taken the initiative to amend their practice  to help clients during lockdown by arranging virtual (on-screen) meetings to take will instructions and to provide advice.  Wills can be prepared and sent out for signature in the usual way.

Some solicitors have gone further and have welcomed the new rules about remote witnessing of wills.

For example, Emily Deane, Technical Counsel at STEP (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners), said:

“We are delighted that the Government has responded to the industry’s calls to allow will witnessing over video conferences. By removing the need for any physical witnesses, wills can continue to be drawn up efficiently, effectively and safely by those isolating.”

A M Davies’ Reaction

However, we at A M Davies consider that signing and witnessing wills via video conferences may well give rise to many cases where unhappy family members challenge the will’s validity. It will not necessarily be easy to show that the new rules have been properly complied with, and that the will has been correctly witnessed under the new rules.

Our advice to clients, therefore, is (1) if you have an urgent wish to make a will and genuinely cannot arrange for face to face witnessing (for example at a distance of 6 feet and outside), then the new virtual witnessing rules can be used, but (2) the safe course of action will be to sign another will in the conventional way once the present Covid–19 restrictions have been lifted.

Making a Will at the Present Time

The tragic consequences of Covid-19 have prompted many of us to reflect on how we can provide for our loved ones in the future. A will tells your executors what you would like to happen to your assets after you die, ensuring peace of mind for those left to look after your affairs.  It’s not just your house and savings that will be protected, either – your will also, where appropriate, includes arrangements for care of your children and can help to reduce Inheritance Tax.

If you are considering making a will, with A M Davies you can provide your instructions remotely via Zoom video conferencing with the benefit of a 10% reduction to our published fixed fee. With our knowledge, professionalism and personal approach, we can help you create a will suited to your present needs. But we will not recommend to our clients that they take unnecessary risks, such as making wills which may be declared invalid at some time in the future.

Find out more about making a will with our clear and concise downloadable guide or get in touch by telephone or email to discuss your requirements.

For more information on this story, we recommend the following websites, but please be aware that we do not recommend that our clients make wills by having them witnessed remotely.

 

Law Gazette: Witnessing wills in absentia

STEP: UK Ministry of Justice enacts video witnessing of wills

GOV.org: Video witnessed wills to be made legal during coronavirus pandemic