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Video-witnessed wills to be temporarily legalised

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The virtual witnessing of wills is to be made legal under government plans to make it easier for people to record their final wishes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Currently, for a will to be legal, it needs to be made in the presence of at least two witnesses.

But with the coronavirus and people needing to isolate or shield, it has been difficult for wills to be carried out.

The government now plans to change the law to allow wills to be witnessed virtually in England and Wales as more people turn to video link software such as Zoom and FaceTime.

Wills witnessed this 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”.

New legislation will be made in September with reforms backdated to 31 January 2020 – the date of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the UK. It will remain in place until 31 January 2022, or “as long as necessary” which means it can be shortened or extended.

After this point wills would return to being made with witnesses who are physically present.

However, the Ministry of Justice said 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.

Wills witnessed through windows are already considered legitimate in case law as long as they have clear sight of the person signing it.

Justice secretary & lord chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, said: “We are pleased more people are taking the incredibly important step to plan for the future by making a will.

“We know that the pandemic has made this process more difficult, which is why we are changing law to ensure that wills witnessed via video technology are legally recognised.

“Our measures will give peace of mind to many that their last wishes can still be recorded during this challenging time, while continuing to protect the elderly and vulnerable.”

Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: “The government’s decision to allow wills to be witnessed remotely for the next two years will help alleviate the difficulties that some members of the public have encountered when making wills during the pandemic. The Law Society is glad to see that guidance has been issued to minimise fraud and abuse.”

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