End of an Era: Video Witnessing for Wills Ceases

The government announced the cessation of temporary video witnessing for Wills on 31 January 2024. This was implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic lockdown, a temporary amendment to the Wills Act 1837 permitted video witnessing for Wills. However, accompanying guidance indicated that this measure should only be employed as a last resort during the pandemic.

Initially effective from 31 January 2020 until 31 January 2022, the original amendment was extended until 31 January 2024. Due to concerns regarding potential additional strains of the Covid-19 virus.

Government announcement on video witnessing of Wills

Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Bellamy, released the following statement on 1 February 2024 announcing the ending of the measure.

“The Government are announcing today that they are not extending the legislation they introduced as a special measure during the covid-19 pandemic to permit remote (video) witnessing of wills.

The legislation, originally introduced in September 2020, amended the Wills Act 1837. The normal requirement that two people must witness the testator signing their will in person, could be extended to include remote witnessing by video-link. The Government and professional bodies published guidance on the steps that should be taken where wills were video-witnessed.

This temporary legislation came in response to the practical difficulties of having wills witnessed. Due to the restrictions on movement to limit the spread of the virus and at a time when more people wanted to make wills. The Government have always provided guidance that video-witnessing wills should be regarded as a last resort. This is due to increased risks of formalities not being properly followed or the risk of undue influence.

The Government decided to extend the temporary legislation for a further two years in February 2022. At the time the United Kingdom had only recently ended a further set of restrictions and there were concerns about further strains of the virus.

However, the special circumstances which applied when this measure was put in place no longer apply. In-person witnessing of wills is no longer subject to restrictions. As such we have decided not to extend the temporary legislation beyond 31 January 2024.”

Who should witness a Will?

Ensuring that a Will is correctly signed and witnessed holds utmost importance. Failure to do so renders the Will invalid. Potentially leading to an earlier Will taking effect or leaving the estate without a Will altogether. In the absence of a Will, the Rules of Intestacy dictate the inheritance.

The individual making the Will signs or acknowledges their signature in the presence of two independent witnesses. Both witnesses must be present during the signing.

It is imperative to inform the witnesses that the document is a Will, though they need not be aware of its contents. Subsequently, they both sign and provide their name, address, and occupation.

A crucial requirement is that a witness should not have any relation to the person making the Will or to any named beneficiary. If a beneficiary or someone related to a beneficiary acts as a witness, the gift to them will fail.

Should there be any concerns regarding the validity of the Will or a desire to revise or update it, consulting a professional will writer is advisable. Not only can they draft a legally sound Will, but they can advise on its implications. They will ensure correct signing and witnessing procedures are followed.

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