The rules for making a will in England and Wales are changing, so people can make one more easily if they are shielding or self-isolating. Under a law that dates back to 1837, a will has to be signed by the person making it and by two other people who are not beneficiaries of the will, who watch the will-maker sign it. Those witnesses then sign the will themselves to say they have seen the will-maker sign it. That rule is not changing. But the Ministry of Justice has said that in future, witnesses do not need to be physically present in the same place as the person signing. Instead they can witness the will being signed live over their smartphone or a video link.
Under the new procedure the person making the will signs it and two independent people witness that over a video link or smartphone in real time as it happens. The will is then sent to each of them in turn and they add their signature to say they remotely witnessed the will being signed. Their signatures are also witnessed
on a video call by the will-maker and by the other witness. All these calls should be recorded and the will – the original, not a copy – is returned.
Lawyers have been calling for changes, but some say the new system is still very cumbersome and risky. It may be easier now that lockdown has been relaxed to
arrange for the signature to be witnessed by people close by who can see the will-maker sign the will through a car or office window. That is allowed under the present rules. The new law will be backdated to 31 January 2020 and last for two years.
Wills in Northern Ireland also require two witnesses to be present and witness the signature. The Northern Ireland Department of Finance told Radio Times, “This is
a matter we are currently reviewing.” In Scotland, there are no plans to change the rules, as a valid will can be made there without the signature being witnessed.
For details, search “guidance on making wills using video” on gov.uk.
Paul Lewis presents Money Box on R4