Remote witnessing of wills extended for two years

News the government has extended the remote witnessing of wills for a further two years has today been cautiously welcomed by solicitors’ leaders.

Under the 1837 Wills Act, two witnesses’ signatures are required in the physical presence of the person making the will (the testator).

In July 2020, the UK government brought in measures to allow the remote witnessing of wills by video to meet demand and simplify will-making during the coronavirus pandemic.

The changes were retrospective from January 2020.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has today announced the legislation on remote witnessing will be temporarily extended until 31 January 2024 to support vulnerable people if they need to self-isolate or in case of further restrictions.

A survey conducted by the Law Society at the end of last year found that although the new provisions had been used as needed, solicitors had worked hard to ensure clients could make wills in the usual way. 95% of respondents drafted wills during lockdowns, but only 14% who drafted wills used remote witnessing.*

Of these, the vast majority (78%) had either a positive or neutral experience. 58% said they would use remote witnessing if it continued to be an option after the pandemic, 7% said they didn’t know and 35% said they would not.

The respondents cited a heightened risk of undue influence, future claims and said it was more difficult to assess their client’s capacity to make decisions when the process was conducted remotely.

Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce 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.

“We look forward to the forthcoming Law Commission report on wills reform which we hope will expand on this and other issues to improve will making in England and Wales.”

Notes to editors

Read the Ministry of Justice’s announcement on remote witnessing

* All the statistics cited in this press release are from our report, The use of video witnessing of wills through lockdown

Video witnessing of wills means live action video-witnessing. Read our guidance.

The survey was live from 5 to 15 November 2021. The survey link was distributed to a sample of wills practitioners and promoted through the Law Society’s networks and social media channels.

722 practitioners responded to the survey, 630 completed the survey. Not all respondents answered every question, the figures are based on the number of respondents answering the question.

The majority of respondents had been wills practitioners for 10 or more years and typically worked in small firms.

Read about the Law Commission’s project on wills reform

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