New law introduces video conferencing to witness a will

The government is making a new law that will allow people to use video conferencing to witness the making of a will.

During the pandemic, a growing number of people have made wills, perhaps conscious of the risk of dying without a will in place – known as dying intestate.

However, it can be challenging to follow the usual legal requirements for a will when shielding from the virus, as two people must witness its signing.

The Wills Act 1837 will therefore be amended to say that, whilst this legislation is in force, the ‘presence’ of those making and witnessing wills includes a virtual presence, via video-link, as an alternative to a physical presence.

The new legislation will apply to wills made from 31st January 2020, the first registered case of Covid-19 in England and Wales.

However, the new law will not apply to wills where a Grant of Probate has already been issued in respect of the deceased person or where the application is already in the process of being administered.

The new legislation will apply to wills made until 31st January 2024 but can be shortened or extended as necessary, in line with other Covid-19 measures.

The government will consider whether to change the law permanently in due course. It is advised that people continue to make their wills in the conventional way, where possible. The new legislation also applies to amendments made to existing wills, known as codicils. None of the other requirements for making a will are being changed.

Under the new legislation, the type of video conferencing or device is not specified, as long as the person making the will and their two witnesses have a clear line of sight of the writing of the signature.

To reflect this, the will-maker could use the following example phrase:

I first name, surname, wish to make a will of my own free will and sign it here before these witnesses, who are witnessing me doing this remotely.

Professional bodies, such as the Law Society and STEP, are expected to be issuing their own guidance to their members on this process.

Andrew Tully, Technical Director at Canada Life, said:

This feels like an eminently sensible move by the government to encourage people to broach a difficult subject without having to compromise on their safety or concerns for their own health.

“Having a will in place provides people with financial security, peace of mind and makes sure their wishes are documented, meaning their families and loved ones will be provided for should the unexpected happen.

“However it can also provide more practical benefits by helping to reduce the amount of inheritance tax that might be payable on the value of the assets they leave behind.