Time to read: two minutes
The Government has recently announced that there will be a relaxation of the rules relating to the execution of wills. Jane Flaherty, Associate Solicitor at Everys and a fully accredited member of Solicitors for the Elderly, advises of the changes in the law relating to the witnessing of wills.
In a press release dated 25th July 2020, the Government announced that the Ministry of Justice will amend the Electronic Communications Act of 2000 which will allow the use of video links for executing wills. This has come about due to the levels of concern expressed during the pandemic, as some practitioners have facilitated wills being witnessed via video link, which is in contravention to current law. There has been a lot of concern regarding whether such wills will be valid and, therefore, possibly open to challenge in the Courts.
The legislation will take effect in September 2020 and will be back dated to 31st January 2020 to cover the full period of the pandemic. The legislation is time-limited and is expected to end on 31st January 2022; however, it could potentially last longer, if deemed necessary, and will be reviewed in line with other legislation that has been passed to deal with issues stemming from COVID-19.
This will be a huge departure from the current process of signing wills which has remained untouched since the Wills Act of 1837. This dictates that there has to be two witnesses physically present to validly witness the testator’s signature.
During lockdown, this has caused difficulties in people being able to sign their wills, especially if the client has been vulnerable and has not been able to find or have access to witnesses to enable them to put their affairs in order. Some people have been self-isolating and have been fearful of coming into contact with others. At Everys, we have implemented various ways to ensure any client that needs to have their will signed has been able to do so. Examples have been witnessing wills over car bonnets, having a portable table to visit clients outside their homes and also having drive-through will signing facilities.
Whilst the pandemic has caused difficulties and introduced the logic of offering some relief to people who have had no choice but to sign remotely, it is imperative that we do not make a change to the law on a permanent basis without fully evaluating the consequences of doing so. The priority must be to ensure that vulnerable people will not be taken advantage of because we have kept to a lowered standard for convenience. I would hope that when we are able to return to ‘normality’, we give serious consideration to returning to the law as it stands today. In the meantime, the traditional ways of executing a will should be followed, if at all possible, as we are unaware of the pitfalls that may occur as a result of this change.