Wills can soon be witnessed over Skype or Zoom as the government overhauls probate legislation as a result of COVID-19. A new statutory instrument will allow Wills to be witnessed remotely here in England and Wales. These new rules will come into force this September. The Wills Act of 1837 currently requires two witnesses to be in the physical presence of the testator, in order to protect people against undue influence and fraud. The pandemic has of course made this process much more difficult which is why a decision to change the law was made. However, the government has urged that using digital methods of witnessing should always be a last resort.
The plan is that the reforms will be backdated to 31 January this year. The witnesses need to be able to see and hear what is happening. Law Society president Simon Davis commented saying: ‘The government’s decision to allow wills to be witnessed remotely for the next two years will help alleviate the difficulties that some members of the public have encountered when making wills during the pandemic. The Law Society is glad to see that guidance has been issued to minimise fraud and abuse. We look forward to working with the government to ensure the reform is robust and successful.’
These measures are only intended to remain in place for the next two years but solicitors have warned that this new legislation could cause a spike in contentious probate, particularly in households where undue influence may be exerted on the testator. Whilst the legislation is intended to alleviate the difficulties faced by vulnerable people, the government must be careful to minimise the unintended consequences.