Making a Will With the Help of Video Conferencing: The New Temporary Legislation

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The Government is implementing new, temporary rules to help make things easier for people who want to write wills during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The lockdown measures that were put in place as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic lead many people to turn to video conferencing as a way of communicating with their family and loved ones, such as FaceTime or Zoom. In many cases where people are still shielding or self-isolating, they continue to communicate in this way.

The Covid-19 crisis sparked an increase in the number of people wanting to write a will, but the social distancing rules made it difficult to create a legally-valid will due to the two-witness rule. 

Thanks to video conferencing platforms, however, the government has now stated that the will-writing rules will change temporarily, and that people will be allowed to use video technology to help with the process if they are unable to carry out certain actions outside.

New rules have therefore been introduced to help make it easier for people who want to put their final wishes into a will during the pandemic in the comfort of their own home, particularly those who are currently vulnerable or expected to shield or self-isolate.

In this guide, we explain the current will-writing laws, the new rules, when they’ll be enforced and how long they’ll last for.

 

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What are the current will-writing rules?

As per current UK law (Wills Act 1837), a will is only legally-binding if:

  • The will is in writing and has been signed by the testator (the person who wrote the will) or someone else, who must sign it in the presence of the testator, ‘by his or her direction’. The purpose of the testator’s signature is to give effect to the will.
  • The testator has signed the will in the presence of two witnesses (or more) - both witnesses must be there to acknowledge the signing of the will at the same time.
  • The two witnesses have also signed the will in the presence of the testator .
  • The testator has testamentary capacity, meaning that they fully understand what they are doing and can express their own wishes without being wrongly influenced by someone else.

Witnesses must not be beneficiaries of the will and they must not be the testator’s spouse or civil partner; for example, if you wish for your daughter to receive a cash lump sum, she cannot be a witness to the signing of the will, nor can she sign it as a witness. 

If a beneficiary signs the will, it becomes invalidated in the eyes of the law and their loved ones will not be able to receive anything as stated in the will.

Learn more: Dying Without a Will

When you make a will, you need to appoint an executor, who will be responsible for managing the will when you pass away and ensuring that your estate gets distributed as per your wishes - this is usually a solicitor, but it can be whoever you choose. The executor of a will is able to be a witness to the signing of it, but it is important to remember that they cannot do so if they are also a beneficiary.

It is declared in the Wills Act 1837 that witnesses must not be blind and should have sound mental capacity.

 

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What are the new rules?

Since lockdown measures were implemented in March 2020, people writing wills at home had to try and get it signed however they could, by getting neighbours to help out where possible and even using video conferencing to witness the signatures.

With social distancing rules making the process slightly more difficult, the government has changed the rules temporarily, making video conferencing a legal option for people who cannot meet up outside to sign and witness the will.

The new legislation will be legally enforced in September 2020 according to the BBC, and will apply to all wills that have been created since 31st January 2020, and will remain in place for two years until 31st January 2022, the date on which the first Coronavirus case was recorded in England and Wales. This two-year period may become extended or reduced depending on the Coronavirus situation.

However, the new rules will not apply to people in the following situations:

  • If a Grant of Probate has already been made
  • If someone is currently administering the will

Where possible, people are still urged to make a will in the conventional way if they can, but should turn to video-conferencing as a last resort if this cannot be done safely as per the government guidelines.

When the new legislation ends in January 2022, people will only be able to write a will in the traditional way and a video call will not be considered legal in terms of witnessing.

Read more: Making a Will at Home or Work Without a Solicitor

Witnessing wills at a safe distance

As per the current will-writing laws, the witnesses must be able to clearly see the testator who is signing the will, so for those who have had to self-isolate and have been following social distancing rules, it has posed some difficulties in getting this done. 

There are, however, ways in which they can still get their will signed safely, with a ‘clear line of sight’ of both witnesses and while keeping no less than 2 metres apart.

While abiding by UK social distancing rules, it would be possible to get your will signed so that it is legally-valid via the following ways (provided it is safe to do so):

  • Witness the signing through a window or open door of a house or vehicle.
  • Witness the signing from the next room or corridor with the doors open.
  • Witness the signing outside in an open space, such as a garden or park.

Provided that you can still sign your will with two witnesses present and while still following the government’s current rules, you should try to do this if you can before looking to use a video platform.

Video-witnessing

The new video-witnessing legislation is a useful option for people who are shielding or self-isolating due to Coronavirus.

If you need to use a video-conferencing platform to do the witnessing, it doesn’t matter whether you use FaceTime, Zoom or Skype, the entire process must be live and the witnesses must not be observing a pre-recorded video of the testator signing the will.

The most important thing is that the testator and the two witnesses can all see each other clearly when the signature is being carried out.

On the GOV.UK website, they provide an example statement that the testator can say at the start of the video conference, to clearly state what actions are being carried out:

“I, (full name), wish to make a will of my own free will and sign it here before these witnesses, who are witnessing me doing this remotely.”

It is also vital that you remember to record the whole process (you can get a family member to help if necessary) and keep a hold of it somewhere safe where it can be easily accessed by your solicitor or executor, so that if any disputes are raised when you pass away, the video will help clarify that it was created in a legally-binding way.

Read more: Common Causes of Will Disputes and Legal Problems

The process of witnessing a will signature via video-link

If you are unable to make a will in the traditional way and you need to get it witnessed virtually via a video-link, there are some important things you need to know about the process first, as failing to do it correctly is likely to result in your will being invalid.

There are 4 stages to this process (or 5 if stage 4 needs to be repeated), as stated on the GOV.UK website, which are:

Stage 1 

  • The testator must make sure that their witnesses can see them clearly, and that they can see their witnesses and their actions clearly on screen.
  • Either the testator or witnesses should ask for the process to be recorded for future reference.
  • The testator should show the front page and signature page to the witnesses.
  • If any witnesses do not know the testator, they should ask that the testator clarify his or her identity with either a passport or driving licence.

Stage 2

  • The witnesses must be able to clearly see the testator signing the will - they must confirm that they can see and hear clearly beforehand, as well as understand their role of being a witness and signing a legal document.
  • Usually, both witnesses must be physically present for the signing of the will, but if this is not possible, they must both be present during the three-way or two-way video-call.

Stage 3

  • Once the witnesses have seen the testator sign the will, and it has been recorded, the physical will must be given to the two witnesses to sign - preferably within 24 hours of the previous video call. If this can’t be done and the process takes longer to complete, there is a bigger risk of legal problems arising at a later date.

Stage 4

  • The two witnesses must sign the will and the testator must watch each witness sign it. 
  • Everyone must be able to see each other clearly and understand what is happening.
  • The witnesses must hold the will up when signing it, so that the testator can clearly see them writing their signature.
  • This should also be recorded if possible.

If both witnesses are not present at the same time when signing the will, you will need to repeat this stage again with the other witness, making sure that you (the testator) and the witness can clearly see each other and understand what is happening.

For more information about the video-witnessing process, visit the GOV.UK website. For any legal questions, seek the advice of your solicitor or the professional you are making a will with.

 

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Are electronic signatures allowed?

When writing a will, whether it’s created online or hand-written, it must be physically signed by the testator and two witnesses. The government is currently not allowing people to sign it electronically, and this is mainly to prevent people committing fraud or the testator being wrongly influenced by another.

Despite this, the Law Commission is currently considering the possibility of electronic signatures in the future, but for now, a will must be signed physically with a pen.

How to make a will online

There are a few ways in which you can make a legally-valid will in the UK, but one of the best ways to do so is online with a professional will-writing service, so that you can write it in the comfort of your own home, at your own pace and you are not faced with expensive solicitor fees.

At Unite Wills, we provide an online will-writing service, which is free for people who are members of Unite the Union, or just £39.99 for a single basic will for those who are not Unite members.

You can register with us today to get started, and our expert advisors will be on hand to help ensure your will is legally binding.

For more information and advice on writing a will online, read our useful guides, and to get started with your will right now, simply tap the button below.