Video-witnesses for wills are temporarily being made legal in the UK.
In order to make it easier to make a will online or from home during the Coronavirus crisis, your witnesses are now able to be ‘present’ via video-link, rather than being required to be with you physically.
This essentially means that almost every step of the will-writing process can be done without leaving your home, and you can get started right now with our online service here at Wills.Services.
All forms of video conferencing can be used, including Zoom, Skype and FaceTime, as long as the sound and video quality is good enough.
Here, we introduce the new temporary will-writing law that is being implemented, explain how it impacts the process of legally documenting your final wishes, and provide you with a step-by-step guide to how you can have your will witnessed virtually.
Under the Wills Act 1837, all wills must be signed in the presence of two or more witnesses. As Covid-19 put a serious limitation on the amount of social contact that we could have, many people were unable to finalise their wills during lockdown because they could not meet with anyone from outside their household to be witnesses.
This law has now been temporarily modified in order to allow witnesses to validate wills through a video call, if it isn’t possible to meet with the testator (the person making the will) in-person. It applies to wills that were made from the 31st of January 2020 – the date of the first Coronavirus case in England and Wales – and is due to continue until the 31st of January 2022. The new will-writing law is only temporary and, despite being scheduled to last for two years, could be extended or shortened if necessary.
It’s worth noting, however, that this does not apply to wills where the Grant of Probate has already been issued or where the application for probate is currently being administered.
The people who witness your will should be independent and not beneficiaries, with the most common examples being friends, work colleagues, neighbours, lawyers and even GPs. In this case, being an ‘independent adult’ means that they are not related to the testator and have no personal interest in the will.
Note: Your spouse or civil partner cannot witness your will.
Despite these temporary laws being implemented, the other requirements for a will to be considered legally binding have not changed.
In order for a will to be valid, it should meet the following conditions:
*The temporary laws implemented to allow for virtual will-witnessing means that a ‘virtual presence’ is now considered to be legally valid.
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.
In order to reduce the risk of fraud, a witness must have a ‘clear line of sight’ of the testator signing their will and must have 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.
It is now entirely legal to witness a will online through a video conference call, but the Ministry of Justice has advised that it should only be used as a last resort, when the testator and witnesses are unable to meet each other physically.
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. signing the document), rather than just your head and shoulders. The process must also take place in real-time, meaning that witnessing a pre-recorded video will not suffice.
It’s also a good idea to record the process on a separate camera – perhaps with the help of a family member within your household – 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. Doing this will help minimise the risk of a dispute, which is a legitimate concern as the number of contested wills are now at an all-time high.
You, the testator, may want to make a clear statement at the beginning of the meeting, as a way of verifying your wishes. You may want to use a statement similar to this example:
“I, NAME, wish to set up a will of my own free will and sign it here before these witnesses, NAMES, who are witnessing the process remotely through a live video conference call.”
This should also help eliminate any potential disputes that could arise, as you are showing that the will was made in a legally-binding way.
The following step-by-step guide should help you understand how to conduct a virtual meeting with your will witnesses to confirm your signing of the document.
Step 1: Start a video conference call with both witnesses and ensure that they can see you (the testator), your actions (signing the documents) and each other. You should also set up a separate camera to record the meeting.
Step 2: Check that both witnesses can see and hear you clearly, and ask them to confirm that they understand and acknowledge their role as a witness to your will.
Step 3: Make a statement informing them of your intentions (as mentioned above) and then sign the will clearly on camera. You should then take the document to the witnesses within 24 hours if possible.
Step 4: Once the will has been delivered to the witnesses, they must knowingly sign the document. To do this remotely, you may meet to deliver the will to the witnesses and ask them to video call you so that you can witness them signing it. If the witnesses cannot sign your will at the same time, this step may need to be repeated.
Here at Wills.Services, our online-based system does the hard work for you. Writing a will is 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.
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.
Read more: Making a Will From Home
Signing a will must still be done physically, as the government will not allow witnesses to sign the document electronically due to the dangers involved (such as undue influence and fraud).
The Law Commission is currently undertaking a law reform project to consider electronic wills in the future, but no legislation has been passed to allow them as of yet.
Here at Wills.Services, we make the process of writing a will online as simple and straightforward as possible, and you can do almost everything from the comfort of your own home. Our professional will-writing service is one that allows you to protect your estate and your loved ones in a way that is affordable, yet legally accurate.
Article reviewed 5th March 2021