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Considerations for executing your will during COVID restrictions

Considerations for executing your will during COVID restrictions

For a will to be valid in England and Wales, one of the requirements is that it must be signed and witnessed by two independent witnesses. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it has meant that this requirement has become challenging, as normally, the will is signed in the physical presence of the two witnesses.

This issue was noted by the UK government and they announced in July 2020 that they were making plans to change the current law so that people can legally witness will signings virtually. This means that people could connect via a video link to carry out the signing of their will. The change they have made is an update to the Wills Act 1837. This has implemented a new subsection in Section 9 of the act which allows for the witnesses to be ‘present’ by video link. The government reassured people that, wills witnessed in such a way will be deemed legal, as long as the quality of the sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what is happening at the time.

The measures will be backdated to 31 January 2020 meaning any will witnessed by video technology from that date onwards will be legally accepted.

The change will remain in place until 31 January 2022, or as long as deemed necessary. Once this requirement is no longer necessary, a will must be signed in the physical presence of two witnesses again. Even though the government have allowed for this method to be legally accepted, this must be done as a last resort and have stressed that wills must be signed and witnessed in the physical presence of two witnesses if they are able to do so.

A will being signed and witnessed through a window is also acceptable if the witnesses can clearly see the document being signed. This however may be an issue if the will maker does not wish for a confidential document to be signed in a public place. They also need to keep in mind that with the coming winter months, standing in the cold to sign documents may not be the most popular method!

During this second lockdown, solicitor firms have been given guidance by the Law Society that they can meet clients at their firm if video conferencing is not available. This therefore, is an option for people who wish for their will to be singed and witnessed in person.

When using the video method to witness a will signing, it is recommended the video session is recorded and retained by the person who is making the will. This will hopefully mean that no challenges can be made to the will at a later date. The person, who has retained the video, must make someone aware of its presence so it can be found when the estate of the person who has died needs to be administered.   

Please see the attached for further government guidance on this issue: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/guidance-on-making-wills-using-video-conferencing

Below is some brief step-by-step guidance on how the new methods can be put into place.

If you wish to sign your will and execute this via video with your witnesses, you need to:

  • Ensure you all have a video platform set up. This can be facetime, zoom, skype or something similar
  • Set a date and time for you all to join the platform at the same time. This isn’t a requirement but it is better practice to do so
  • Start the video recording by introducing yourself and making sure you pan the room with the camera to ensure there is only you present
  • Make sure you hold the will to the camera and state what the document is. You must also do this with the signed page
  • All parties on the video must be in full view meaning this cannot just be their head and shoulders
  • Once the will is signed by you, explain how you are then going to send the will to your two witnesses.
  • The process can then be repeated when they receive the document

Please note, the date that the testator signs the will, is the date the will becomes executed despite not coming into force until signed by the witnesses.

If you wish to sign your will and execute this in person at a firm, you can:

  • Ask your solicitor for a date and time that the office will only be in use for you and your witnesses (if possible)
  • Ensure that all parties have washed their hands and wear a face covering
  • Remain two metres apart at all times
  • Ensure all parties bring their own pen to sign the will

As stated, the above is only a brief guide on how to execute wills using the new methods. We can offer the above services at Pilkington Shaw and provide further details, advice and assistance on this matter. Please do contact us at Sophie.c@pilkingtonshaw.co.uk if you wish to make any further enquires.

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