Vulnerable people across England and Wales can continue to have their wills witnessed through video-links up until 2024, under new legislation to extend measures brought in during the pandemic.
The extension aims to help those who are forced to isolate, either with Covid or from another vulnerability, with the government adding it will “reassure all those who need to use this provision that their final wishes are legally-recognised as witnesses previously had to be physically present”.
It comes as Law Society research found that around 14% of legal professionals who had been involved in making a will since the change in 2020 had used software such as Zoom or FaceTime for witnessing wills.
Two witnesses are still required and virtual witnessing is only recognised if the quality of the sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what is happening.
The latest extension will last until 31 January 2024 while the Law Commission considers potential reforms to the law around wills, including whether to make these changes permanent.
The Ministry of Justice said the use of video technology should still remain a “last resort” however, and that people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of wills where it is safe to do so. Wills witnessed through windows are already considered legitimate in case law provided they have clear sight of the person signing it.
Organisations such as STEP, who represent legal professionals, and others who help families plan for the future, have welcomed the extension.
Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “Solicitors have bent over backwards to ensure their clients have been able to make valid wills despite the restrictions during the pandemic.
“Those who have used video witnessing have told the Law Society it has been a useful option to have: to help vulnerable people set their affairs in order when making a will in the physical presence of witnesses is not possible.”
She added: “The Law Society continues to take the view that the most effective reform of the law would be to give judges powers to recognise the deceased’s intentions even where their will may not have been witnessed, in line with the Wills Act.
“We look forward to the forthcoming Law Commission report on wills reform which we hope will expand on this and other issues to improve will making in England and Wales.”
Emily Deane, STEP Technical Counsel and head of Government Relations concluded: “We welcome this announcement because it gives clarity to everyone involved in the process of witnessing wills. While we agree that video technology should remain a last resort, it is vital that anyone who is required to isolate can arrange their will and has peace of mind that it is legally valid.”