A new law allowing Wills to be witnessed over video calls is set to haul 19th-century legislation into the digital age.
The new temporary legislation announced over the weekend, is designed to help people who are self-isolating due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Changes to the 1897 Wills Act will allow people to write a new Will or make changes to an existing one over popular video messaging services such as Zoom and Whatsapp.
Under the current legislation, the signing of a Will must take place in the physical presence of at least two witnesses.
We know that the pandemic has made this process more difficult, which is why we are changing the law to ensure that wills witnessed via video technology are legally recognised. Our measures will give peace of mind to many that their last wishes can still be recorded during this challenging time while continuing to protect the elderly and vulnerable,"Said Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland.
Since the Coronavirus pandemic swept across the UK in Spring, up to a quarter of the population has resorted to total self-isolation at some point.
Under the classic interpretation of the old Act, anyone wanting to write or update their Will or would have to risk exposing themselves to the virus or wait until the crisis is over to sign it in front of the witnesses.
The changes will make it legal for the presence of two witnesses to be either physical or virtual.
When the law is signed off in September, it will be backdated to 31st January 2020, when the first case of Coronavirus was announced in the UK, to make sure that any Wills attested during the pandemic are covered.
Some desperate families had already taken to video-witnessing their loved one's last wishes during the COVID-19 crisis, in the hope that the law would eventually catch up with reality.
One lawyer told Today's Wills and Probate that since the pandemic started, they had helped at least one critically ill person to make a Will over video chat.
They were forced to rely on a creative interpretation of the current rules and hope for the best.
At the moment, a Will may be considered valid if the signing takes place in the witnesses' line of sight, such as through a window or a door.
Thankfully, the new law will lay to rest the need for liberal interpretations of centuries-old legislation, as the validity of video Wills is set to be signed off in September.
At the moment, the changes are only set to be temporary and will expire in January 2022- but both the government and top lawyers have said it could be time for permanent reform.
We are delighted that the Government has responded to the industry's calls to allow will witnessing over video conference. By removing the need for any physical witnesses, wills can continue to be drawn up efficiently, effectively and safely by those isolatingSaid Emily Deane, Technical Counsel for the global association for inheritance lawyers, STEP
We hope the policy will continue to evolve and enable more people to execute a will at this difficult time.
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