Legislation introduced during the pandemic allowing wills to be witnessed over Zoom and Skype will be extended until January 2024, the government announced today.
Lord chancellor Dominic Raab MP said the extension was a ‘common sense measure’ that would give vulnerable people peace of mind that their wills are recognised if they are forced to have them witnessed via video due to isolation.
Last year’s legislation amended the Wills Act 1837 to stipulate that where wills must be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses, their presence can be physical or virtual. Wills still need to be signed by two witnesses who are not its beneficiaries. Electronic signatures are not permitted.
The MoJ’s announcement cites Law Society research that found around 14% of legal professionals involved in making a will since the temporary measure was introduced used software such as Zoom or FaceTime to witness wills.
Society 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 presence of witnesses is not possible.
‘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.’
The Law Commission is currently considering potential reforms to the law around wills, including whether to make the temporary measure permanent.
However, the MoJ said today that video technology should remain a last resort and people must continue to arrange physical witnessing where it is safe to do so.