During lockdown there has been talk that the age-old rules of how a Will must be signed might be expanded to include witnesses playing their role remotely. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has now confirmed that the Wills Act 1837 will be amended to allow witnesses to be present “virtually” by way of a video link.
Although it’s exciting to see the law develop in step with technology, the MoJ made it clear that where it is possible to arrange a signing, by gathering two witnesses to watch the Will maker sign, and vice versa, this remains the best way. In fact the Ministry goes further and says that remote witnessing is a “last resort”.
If no other signing options are possible and a Will is to be signed using witnesses who are “virtually” present, it is immaterial which technology is preferred, for example Zoom, Skype or Face Time, but ensuring the MoJ’s step by step guidance is followed is vital to ensure the Will is valid.
The extension of the law to allow witnesses to connect remotely relies on the principle that the witnesses have a clear line of sight and are able see the Will maker put their hand and signature on the Will. The camera angle will be critical as a head and shoulders shot of the Will maker will not meet the requirements.
The MoJ guidance is detailed and includes preliminary checks on the sound quality and that the Will maker and witnesses are properly visible to each other. The Will maker should hold up the Will to the camera showing the first page and then turn to the signing page and state clearly that they want to put this Will into effect and then sign. Within 24 hours of the Will maker signing, which may prove tight if the Will needs to be posted onto the witnesses, there should be a further online meet-up so that the witnesses can then each sign the original Will and record their contact details. It is best practice to ensure a recording is made of this and the Will maker signing.
The introduction of these rules coincides with lockdown and therefore very well may be withdrawn after. At Tozers we recognise the importance for clients to be able to finalise a Will, which can represent their final wishes. We’ve helped clients sign their Wills in gardens, on cars in laybys, and through windows, which has been especially helpful for those shielding.
With these methods already established there is unlikely to be a rush of virtual Will signings, but it is good to hear that this option is now open to help those that are unable to progress through any of the other ways.
If you need any help or advice with your current Will, or are looking to put one in place and would like to talk to one of our dedicated team, then please visit our specialist Wills hub page or contact a member of the team.