Witnessing a will via an online video call: Law extended until 2024

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Video-witnesses for wills are temporarily being made legal in the UK.

The Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) temporary amendment to the 1837 Wills Act, permitting the virtual witnessing of Will signatures, was due to expire on 31st January 2022.

However, thankfully, this unprecedented bending of legislation - that temporarily permits making Wills using video-conferencing - will now remain in force until January 2024.

This welcome extension continues to protect the most vulnerable people in our society (i.e. those who continue to shield themselves from Covid or are housebound for any other reason) by allowing them to both make and sign a Will online, legally, in the safe sanctuary and comfort of their own homes.

A press release by the MoJ titled “Video-witnessed Wills legalisation extended” quotes legal experts saying that this extension has been fully embraced and welcomed by the legal industry.

The Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners (STEP) said “We welcome this announcement...” and “it is vital that anyone who is required to isolate can arrange their Will and has peace of mind that it is legally valid.

Stephanie Boyce, the President of the Law Society of England and Wales, said “Those who have used video witnessing have told the Law Society it has been a useful option to have - to help vulnerable people set their affairs in order when making a Will in the [physical] presence of witnesses is not possible.

Although it temporarily continues to be legally acceptable to witness a Will via video conferencing, the Ministry of Justice has advised that it should only be used as a last resort and when the Testator and witnesses are unable to meet each other physically.

Note: This temporary amendment to legislation applies to Wills made after 31st January 2020 BUT DOES NOT APPLY if a Grant of Probate has already been issued or an application for Probate is already being administered.

In this guide, we answer your most commonly asked questions about having a Will witnessed via video-link and provide a step-by-step guide outlining the whole process, from start to finish.

Who can witness a Will? 

The two people who witness your Will should be independent adults who are not a beneficiary in your Will.

A suitable ‘independent adult’ means:

  • that they must be aged 18 or over
  • are not related to the Testator (i.e. they’re not related to you, the person making the Will)
  • have no personal interest in the Will (i.e. you’re not gifting/leaving anything to them in your Will)

The most common acceptable witnesses are:

  • friends
  • work colleagues
  • neighbours
  • lawyers
  • GPs (a particularly solid option if you have a history of mental illness, a terminal illness or a diagnosis of dementia)
  • distant relatives such as cousins

Who can’t witness a Will?

  • a beneficiary in your Will who will receive part of your estate or a gift from you
  • a close relative (i.e. parent or child)
  • your spouse or civil partner
  • a beneficiary’s spouse or civil partner
  • anyone who is partially or fully blind

If you do not choose legally acceptable Will witnesses, your Will could be considered void and easily contested at a later date.

Read: How much does it cost to make a Will?

Can you witness a signature over Zoom?

There is no set criterion for the type of video software you should use; you can choose any type of online video-conferencing platform you are familiar with or prefer to use, such as:

  • Zoom
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Skype
  • FaceTime
  • Facebook
  • Google Meet

What you must do is make sure you have a sufficiently strong internet signal so that the sound and video quality is good.

How to witness a Will online

As mentioned above, the type of video conferencing application or software that you use to set up a meeting with your witnesses does not matter and is ‘not important, as long as the person making the Will and their two witnesses have a clear line of sight of the writing of the signature’.

One of the most important things, therefore, is to set up the camera so that the witnesses can clearly see your actions (i.e. you physically signing the document by putting pen to paper), rather than just being able to see your head and shoulders.

The process must also take place in real-time (i.e. live) via video link, meaning that your two independent witnesses ‘witnessing’ a pre-recorded video is not acceptable.

It’s also a good idea to record the process on a separate camera – perhaps with the help of a family member – so that you have proof of the meeting taking place and can show that you were not under undue influence or a victim of fraud. A recording will help minimise the risk of a future dispute and is a legitimate concern due to the number of contested Wills now being at an all-time high.

You, the Testator, should make a clear recorded statement at the beginning of the Will-signing meeting, as a way of verifying your wishes. You may want to use a statement similar to this: 

“I, [YOUR NAME], wish to set up a Will of my own free will and sign it here before these witnesses, [BOTH WITNESS NAMES], who are witnessing the process remotely through a live video conference call.”

Making this statement should help eliminate any potential disputes that could arise, as you are showing that your Will was made in a legally-binding way.

For more details on how to witness the signing of a Will online, check out our step-by-step guide below.

You might be interested in: CPR Decisions, DNACPR and Living Wills

What makes a Will legal? 

Despite these temporary laws being implemented, the other requirements for a Will to be considered legally binding have not changed.

For a Will to be valid, it should meet the following conditions:

  • your Will must be made in writing and should be signed by yourself (the Testator) or by someone in your presence and by your direction 
  • it must be clear that the Testator intended to give effect to the Will when signing 
  • two or more witnesses must be present at the same time when the Testator signs the document* 
  • these witnesses must sign (or attest) the document in the presence of the Testator 

*The extended temporary law allows for virtual Will-witnessing meaning that a ‘virtual presence’ of the witnesses, via live video conferencing, is now considered to be legally valid until 31st January 2024.

There are, of course, some other general legal requirements that must be met to protect your Will, but when you write it here with us at Wills.Services, we will ensure that all bases are covered and that your Will is legally valid.

Make Your Will

Social distancing: Can you witness a Will from a distance? 

To reduce the risk of fraud, a witness must have a ‘clear line of sight’ of the Testator signing their Will and must have a full understanding of the fact that they are witnessing the signing of a legal document – this is the case for Wills witnessed in-person and virtually.

You can have your Will verified by witnesses physically present while remaining socially distanced during the Coronavirus pandemic by meeting in a spacious location. For example, your Will could be witnessed in a garden, through an open door of a house, or via a window. 

As long as your witnesses can see and hear exactly what you are doing, then witnessing a Will from a safe distance is a completely valid way of doing so.  

Online Will witnessing: How does it work? 

The following step-by-step guide will help you understand how to conduct a virtual meeting with your Will witnesses to confirm your legal signing of the document.

Step 1: Set up a video conference call

Start a video conference call with both witnesses and ensure that:

  • they can see you (the Testator)
  • your actions (you signing the documents)
  • each other
  • you have set up a separate camera to record the meeting

Step 2: Make vision and sound checks

Both witnesses must confirm that:

  • they can see and hear you clearly
  • they understand and acknowledge their role as a witness to your will

Step 3: Show the Will document

The Testator (Will maker) should hold the Will document up in front of the camera to:

  • show the front page of the document to both witnesses
  • show the signature page the Witnesses will need to sign (with the attestation clauses on), once the Will has been delivered to them.

Step 4: Testator’s statement

You should make a statement, on camera, to your witnesses confirming:

  • your intentions (as per the statement example given above)
  • the time and full date (day of the week, date, month and year)

Step 5: Witness acknowledgements

Both witnesses should confirm on camera that:

  • they can clearly see and hear you (apart from someone with a hearing impairment)
  • they fully acknowledge and completely understand their role as a witness

Note: Where possible, it’s better if both witnesses are both present together during the signing process via a three-way video link.

Step 6: Sign the Will

You should then sign the Will whilst clearly in full view of the camera, making sure both witnesses can clearly see:

  • you (your face, head and shoulders)
  • your hand holding a pen
  • you physically writing your signature on the Will

Step 7: Delivery of Will

Ideally, the Will signed by the Testator should be:

  • hand delivered to the two witnesses within 24 hours of the Testator signing the Will or
  • posted by registered guaranteed next day delivery post

Note: Any undue delays in the witnesses signing your Will can leave your Will vulnerable to being contested at a later date.

Step 8: Witnesses’ signatures

Once the Will has been delivered to the witnesses, they must:

  • confirm that they are knowingly signing the Will via video call as a witness to your signature on the date and time you signed the Will
  • that you, the Testator, is present, to witness them signing (you should also verbally confirm this on camera)
  • confirm the time and date they are about to sign the Will as a witness
  • hold up the front page of the Will document to the camera to show what they are about to sign
  • make sure them physically signing the document is captured on camera
  • hold the signature page up to the camera to show that they have signed the Will. The Testator should then confirm they can see the witness’s signature.

If the witnesses cannot sign your will at the same time, this step may need to be repeated as quickly as possible for the second witness’s signature.

Here at Wills.Services, our online-based system does the hard work for you. Writing a Will is incredibly straightforward when you do it with us, but you must make sure that two or more witnesses can watch you sign the Will in a legally valid way, and that you can also see and watch witnesses online whilst you’re signing.

Dying without a legally valid will can have dire consequences and it usually means that your estate will be distributed in line with the rules of intestacy, which won’t represent your true wishes and could result in untimely disputes.

Who keeps the original copy of a Will UK?

Once your Will has been signed and witnessed, you might want to securely store it with HM Courts & Tribunals Service or a Probate Registry. You should keep a copy of your Will with your important personal documents together with a note of where the original is stored. Also tell your executor, next of kin and/or main beneficiary where your Will is stored.

Get in touch with us today to discuss storing your will safely and securely.

Can you sign a Will electronically? 

Signing a Will must still continue to be done physically, as the UK government will not allow witnesses to sign the document electronically due to the dangers involved (such as undue influence and fraud).  

The Law Commission was undertaking a law reform project to consider the electronic signing of wills in the future but has had to pause this project to instead concentrate on legal issues surrounding “how and where people can marry.” If you click the “law reform project” link, you can check the current status of the project.

Making a Will online with Wills.Services 

Here at Wills.Services, we make the process of writing a Will online as straightforward as possible, and you can do almost everything from the comfort of your own home whilst also having peace of mind that it is reviewed by a legal professional, unlike many other online will services. Our professional will-writing service allows you to protect your estate and your loved ones in a way that is affordable, yet legally valid.

Sign up with Wills.Services to get started on your will today from only £29.99. Alternatively, if you would like more information on witnessing Wills, simply get in touch with us by completing our short, no-obligation contact form.

Article reviewed 31st January 2022