One of the challenges of lockdown has been arranging the witnessing of Wills. The Wills Act 1837 still governs how Wills should be witnessed, requiring the testator to sign in the physical presence of two witnesses. During the most severe stages of lockdown and social distancing, and particularly for those self-isolating or shielding, this presented a major challenge.
In the absence of any previous changes in legislation, solicitors have had to become quite inventive to ensure that the formalities were completed correctly – “quarantining” documents to ensure no cross-contamination, meeting clients in car parks and gardens while witnessing from a safe distance.
The government has now decided to legalise the remote witnessing of Wills for two years, backdating this change to 31 January 2020. What this means is that the requirement for the presence of witnesses will include those witnessing remotely, by video conference, as long as the quality of the sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what was happening at the time.
All other formal requirements will remain the same.
The changes to the legislation to include video-witnessing of Wills will be made in September, and they are only intended to be temporary. The government also decided not to permit electronic signatures or signing using counterpart documents.
Our view is that we will continue to make Wills complying with the traditional formal requirements, however we recognise that for those shielding or self-isolating, where no other options are available, this may provide an alternative solution.