Virtual Witnessing of English Wills
Virtual witnessing of Wills is now valid under English law. This follows an announcement by the UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) yesterday which overturned an almost 200-year-old law. The decision is temporary but will be backdated to 31st January 2020. The situation will be reviewed and will continue to operate until it is no longer required.
Prior to this announcement, Wills needed to be signed in the presence of 2 independent witnesses. An independent witness cannot be a beneficiary under the Will or related to a beneficiary. They should also be over 18, know the person making the Will and be of sound mind.
Given the restrictions on gatherings, the requirement to have 2 independent witnesses in the presence of the person making the Will created a problem.
Physical Witnessing Remains Preferred Option
Moving forward the advice from the UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) remains to use the traditional route which has served generations well. The reason for 2 witnesses is to prevent a person being coerced into making a Will against their wishes. Having two people physically in the room with the testator to act as a witnesses provides the greatest surety. For more on online wills, see this post.
Amended Attestation Statement?
However, there will be hurdles to overcome. The attestation statement which normally says ‘in the presence of’ may need to be adapted to read ‘in the virtual presence of’ to indicate that video conferencing was being used.
Virtual Witnessing Videos
Additionally, the MoJ has said virtual witnessing is only possible where the sound and video quality is sufficiently good. With the possibility of recording virtual meetings a reality, this could be used to prove the quality of both sound and video.
Practicalities of Virtual Witnessing
The final point is that the testator must sign the original document in the presence of both the witnesses at the same time. In addition, the witnesses must sign in the presence of the testator, although this does not need to be at the same time. Therefore, the original Will needs to pass from the testator to each of the witnesses and video conferences must be arranged for each signature.
Virtual witnessing is now permitted under English law. Wills signed virtually since 31st January 2020 are legally valid, provided they have been witnessed using high-quality sound and video. The amendment to the traditional and preferred rules is temporary. The temporary rules will be reviewed in January 2022. See this BBC link for full story.