Video-witnessed wills extended until 2024
The government says the extension will give vulnerable people peace of mind that their wills will be legally-recognised.
Under the 1837 Wills Act, for a will to be legal, it normally needs to be made in the presence of at least two witnesses. But video-witnessed wills were temporarily legalised in July 2020 to make it easier for people to record their final wishes.
Legislation will extend the ability for wills to be witness via video until 2024, to help people who are forced to isolate either with Covid or from another vulnerability.
Law Society research has found that about 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.
To protect people against undue influence and fraud, 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.
Dominic Raab, secretary of state for justice, said: “I want people to be able to use technology safely and securely to ensure they can record their final wishes no matter the circumstances.
“This is a common-sense measure that will give vulnerable people peace of mind that their wills are recognised if they are forced to have them witnessed via video due to isolation.”
The extension will last until 31 January 2024 while the Law Commission will consider potential reforms to the law around wills, including whether to make these changes permanent.
The government says the use of video technology should remain a last resort and people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of wills where it is safe to do so.
Stephanie Boyce, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: “Solicitors have bent over backwards to ensure their clients have been able to make valid wills despite the restrictions in place during the pandemic.
“Those who have used video witnessing have told the Law Society that 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.
“The Law Society continues to take the view that in the longer term the most effective reform of the law would be to give judges powers to decide on whether wills are valid in individual cases. They could then recognise the deceased’s intentions even where they have a will which may not have been witnessed in line with the Wills Act, so their estate is inherited as they intended.”