In what is being described as the “biggest change to law in 200 years,” the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has this week announced that people will be able to sign wills with a witness only ‘virtually’ present. The new rules will be laid in September 2020 but the reforms will be backdated to January 31st 2020. This means video conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Skype can now legally be used as part of the will-signing process and anyone who has signed a will with virtual witnesses since January 31st 2020 will be legally accepted.
Previously, under the Wills Act of 1837, two people were required to be physically present to witness the signing of a will – a law which had remained unchanged since the Victorian era.
Understandably, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has meant that for many, the law has been impossible to follow without breaking the UK’s social distancing rules. To make matters worse, the nature of our current circumstances has meant that the demand for wills in recent months has only risen.
In other areas of the law, many solicitors had been able to incorporate e-signatures into legal processes, but with regards to wills, the change was not implemented quite quickly enough before the pandemic. Instead, up to this point, solicitors have been forced to take creative measures to help clients witness wills, including watching them through a window.
The new changes allowing for virtual witnessing now offer a practical solution to a growing problem amidst COVID-19. Whilst it’s important to note that the law is considered a temporary measure (which will be reviewed again in two years) it is likely that by this time the will-signing process would have benefited from modernisation.
At Lawrence Stephens, we are closely monitoring these legal changes and are ready to support our clients throughout this new process. If you would like to learn more about the points raised above, or find out how we could best assist you with writing a will, please do not hesitate to get in touch.