Private Lives - Witnessing Wills: COVID-19 update


04 September 2020

Dealing with the execution of Wills at the height of the pandemic was a difficult issue while the restrictions on movement were in force.

It has certainly taken a while but the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has finally announced that new legislation, which will enable individuals to video-witness the execution of their Wills if they are unable to observe the normal formalities, will be brought forward in September and that it will apply retrospectively, from 31 January 2020 onwards.

While the introduction of this measure is welcome and the option to use video-witnessing for the execution of a Will could be extremely useful for some individuals, there are a number of points to bear in mind:

  • the new rules will apply only in England and Wales
  • the MoJ has published guidance but the draft legislation itself has not yet been published, so, we  cannot, at this point in time, state categorically what will be required to comply with the new rules
  • the new rules will not apply where the grant of probate has been issued or where the application for the grant has been submitted
  • it is a temporary measure: the new rules will apply to Wills made up to two years from the date the legislation is due to come into force - until 31 January 2022
  • there is always the risk that the legislation is not, in fact, implemented for whatever reason.

On the basis that there is, as yet, no track record on the method of witnessing Wills via video link and because of the increased risk of challenge, the potential for abuse, issues with confidentiality, the uncertainty on the rules and the technical and logistical difficulties with video-witnessing, our advice to clients is that witnessing Wills via a video link should only be used if the conventional method is going to prove impossible.

Over the last several months, we have advised our clients on how to execute Wills while complying with the restrictions on movement/social distancing, and in the majority of cases, it has been manageable.

We will continue to monitor the situation and we will advise our clients on the most appropriate method of dealing with the execution of their Wills, with reference to each client’s particular circumstances. Contact our Private Client Advisory team to find out how they can help you.

This article is from the summer/autumn 2020 issue of Private Lives, our newsletter covering the key legal and tax issues that individuals face. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at August 2020.

To keep up-to-date with the latest news, legal updates and seminar information, please register and select the areas that are of interest to you.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at September 2020.