2020 is the year of change – nothing that any of us does is really the same as it used to be and the Wills Act 1837 is no different.
For nearly 200 years, one of the requirements for a will to be valid has been that it should be witnessed by two adult, independent witnesses who are both present and see the person making the will sign it. It is no surprise that the significant technological developments we have made in the last two centuries have led to increased interest in updating the rules around the signing of wills. The arrival of Covid-19 has led to this review being accelerated.
The Government has announced that it will be introducing a temporary change to the law so that a will can still be valid if the two witnesses only see the will being signed via a video conferencing method such as FaceTime or Zoom. It is anticipated that the witnesses will still have to subsequently sign the will to show that they were one of the witnesses – but they will not necessarily see each other sign.
There are some obvious flaws to this system. What if something happens to a witness before they receive and then sign the document? What if the actual will goes missing in the post? What if there is someone in the room who is off-camera but who is controlling the person making the will? What if the will is substituted so that the person signs one will and a different will, which they didn’t choose, is sent to the witnesses to countersign?
These are difficult risks to allay, but we are in difficult times so some compromises may be needed. Our advice would be to be comforted by this option being available but to try to avoid using it if at all possible. Wills signed with everyone present at the same time – whether that’s outside, or through a window and/or wearing a face covering to keep everyone physically distanced are much more robust and it’s important to remember just how important your will is. It is the document which records your wishes and legacy to those you love the most, so being extra careful even if you may not have to, seems to be very much in keeping with the new world we are all living in.
If you would like more advice about wills and legacies please contact Tamara Hasson on 0117 394 5030.