On 28 September 2020 the Statutory Instrument making temporary amendments to the Wills Act 1837 is due to come into force.
The catalyst for the amendment has of course been the covid-19 pandemic which has touched almost every aspect of our lives in 2020, including the practicalities of witnessing a Will.
The reforms allow witnessing of Wills to take place via ‘video conferencing or other visual transmission’ and interestingly are backdated to 31 January 2020, the date of the first UK confirmed covid-19 case.
Under the 1837 Act the previous requirement was for two witnesses to be in the physical presence of the testator (person making the Will) i.e. not necessarily the same room.
Video witnessing is encouraged to remain a last resort and the Government guidance encourages people to continue to arrange physical witnessing of Wills where it is safe to do so. The days of neighbours witnessing a new Will over the garden fence are perhaps not over.
The amendment of the Wills Act 1837 is temporary and due (subject to any future revisions) to apply only until 31 January 2022. Undoubtedly the ever increasing digital world we live in is likely to mean some form of permanent change to the witnessing of Wills will be made.
It remains to be seen if fears of a possible increase in the number of cases of Will fraud, undue influence, and will validity challenges materialise. A range of concerns arise including possible challenges and complications from poor video quality, fraudulent alterations, circumstances such as the testator dying after signing but before the hard copy of the Will is received and signed by the video witnesses, or even the hard copy going astray in transit between the testator and the witnesses.
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.