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Remote witnessing of wills allowed during pandemic

For a will to be valid, it must be signed in the presence of two witnesses who must both be present at the same time in order to comply with the Wills Act 1837.

The Coronavirus pandemic has made this difficult when individuals have been advised to shield and everyone has to observe social distancing measures.

Case law stated that as long as the witnesses saw the testator sign the will, even if it was through a window, the will was valid.  However, there was no guidance as to whether witnessing the will via a video link was legally acceptable.

The Ministry of Justice has now declared that wills witnessed by video link during the coronavirus outbreak are legally valid provided the quality of the picture and sound are adequate for all parties to see and hear what is happening at the same time.

A statutory instrument under the Electronic Communications Act 2000 will come into effect in September stating that ‘in the presence of’ can mean virtual presence via video link.

The law will be backdated to 31 January 2020, when the first coronavirus case was recorded in the UK, to cover wills already made during the pandemic. It will remain in place until 31 January 2022, or longer if necessary. After which time, wills must be witnessed by people who are physically present at the time.

Remote witnessing is only being authorised as a last resort. It is still important to try and arrange the physical presence of witnesses if it is safe to do so.  In addition, a formal statement should be included in wills which are remotely witnessed.

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