The Government has announced a major change in the procedure for signing Wills, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the advice to avoid close contact with other people.
To be valid, a Will has to meet certain criteria, including that the person making it (the ‘testator’) has the necessary mental capacity and is not being bullied into signing it. The Will also has to be validly executed, which means signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses. For almost two hundred years the law has required that the witnesses must be physically present when the testator signs the Will; if they are not, then the Will fails. This has caused problems for vulnerable people who have had to self-isolate very strictly during the ongoing pandemic.
It has been announced that legislation will be enacted to allow remote witnessing of Wills. The witnesses can now watch the testator sign the Will by video link, rather than needing to be in the same room as him or her. The new legislation will be backdated to cover Wills made since 31st January 2020, and is set to apply until 31st January 2022.
The requirements for a Will to be validly executed remotely are detailed and strict, and the risk that the procedure is not carried out correctly is high. If a Will has not been signed validly, this may not come to light until after the testator has died, at which point it cannot be rectified. Remote witnessing should therefore be a last resort only where conventional witnessing is impossible.
At TWM Solicitors we are able to advise clients on the requirements for making valid and effective Wills which best suit their circumstances and wishes. Our solicitors can also act as witnesses, either in the office (where social distancing safeguards are in place) or if necessary at the testator’s home.