In order to be considered valid, Wills have historically needed to comply with section 9 of the Wills Act 1837 (amended by section 17 of the Administration of Justice Act 1982). Usual practice dictates that the execution and attestation of Wills must comply entirely with the statutory legal requirements, but global events relating to the outbreak of coronavirus have brought additional challenges on how witnessing Wills remotely could be achieved.
Legal requirements state that a witness must be present and within the testator’s line of sight, which does not allow for witnessing Wills remotely. While this could be interpreted to include witnessing wills remotely via video link, this interpretation has not been accepted. A recent amendment to the procedure has addressed this specific issue to allow for the remote witnessing of Wills has been introduced.
The amendment specifically states that a witness can be considered present when attending via video conference or other visual transmission in real-time. This retroactive amendment will apply to Wills made since the end of January 2020 in England and Wales. It applies to all Wills unless a Grant of Probate has already been issued, or the application for Probate is currently being processed.
At the moment, the amendment is expected to last for 2 years, though this may be extended as the situation develops. It is still a requirement that signatures must occur within ‘line of sight’ and signatures must still be fully observed. To ensure the witnessing of the Will is legally compliant, the real-time video feed must show more than just the head and shoulders of attendees – anyone who is signing documents must be fully visible while they do so.
Best Practice Guidelines for Remote Witnessing of Wills
- Ensure a strong internet connection before commencing real-time video
- All witnesses must be able to fully see and hear the testator, and the testator must be able to fully see and hear the witnesses
- Reference to remote witnessing must be made in the attestation clause
- The signing should be recorded
- The Will should be re-signed as soon as possible in the ‘traditional’ way
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