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Witnessing wills virtually

Witnessing wills virtually

Thursday, 30 July 2020

There has been a significant change to the law on witnessing wills. Prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Justice has announced a temporary change to the way that wills can be validly witnessed.

Until now, the Wills Act 1837 dictated that for a will to be validly witnessed, two witnesses must sign the will to confirm that they had seen the person making the will (the testator) sign the will whilst physically in their presence and in the presence of each other. This has proved problematic during lockdown, particularly amongst the elderly or those self-isolating because of underlying health issues.

In September, new (and partly retrospective) legislation will be introduced which will allow all wills made between 31 January 2020 and 31 January 2022 to be witnessed virtually via live video link. The testator will still have to sign the will in front of two witnesses and hard copy signatures will be required. Both witnesses must be able to see the testator actually signing the will, so care needs to be taken with camera angles! Witnesses don’t need to see each other sign, but it’s good practice that they do.

The attestation clause should state that the will is being witnessed electronically. Ideally, the witnessing should be recorded, so that each person present can confirm that they can see each other and that they understand they are signing or witnessing the signature of a will. The will won’t be valid until all three parties have signed and, if possible, this should happen within 24 hours.

The position remains that wills should be signed and witnessed in person wherever possible; this new temporary arrangement simply recognises the difficult times we’re living in and provides a last resort solution for those who need it.

If you’re making a will, please speak to us first about inheritance tax planning; this can help to make sure that more of your assets are available for your chosen beneficiaries.

We can also help with probate, should you need expert guidance at this difficult time. You can find contact details on the Our People section of the MHA Larking Gowen website. Alternatively, call 0330 024 0888 or email enquiry@larking-gowen.co.uk.

Cindy Chaplin

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