In a controversial announcement made by the Government on 25 July 2020, wills witnessed via video link are to be legalised temporarily. As expected, there are conditions imposed on this, but some say they do not go far enough and risk a rise in probate disputes.
The Ministry of Justice announced on Saturday that a law will be passed in September to allow any wills made via video link since 31 January 2020 to be valid. Under current legislation, wills must be witnessed in the physical presence of at least two witnesses. This has caused some difficulty to those who are shielding or self-isolating as a result of the current Covid-19 pandemic.
The Government has confirmed that:
As the legislation has not yet been passed, the full extent of the requirements is not yet known. However, we do know that the Government has said that witnessing a will via video link must be a last resort.
Despite the allowances, the Government has said that if a grant of probate has already been obtained or the application for a grant is in the process of being administered, the new rules will not apply.
No. Currently, the new requirements will be in place until 31 January 2022 but can be extended or shortened as necessary due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Once it is deemed safe to do so, the original requirements will return. At this time, witnesses will be required to be in the physical presence of the testator once more.
Even though there are clear benefits in allowing wills to be witnessed in such a way, there are many who are concerned that the formalities will not be properly adhered too, leaving some estates at risk of a dispute. There are also concerns that a testator may experience pressure from a third party seeking to force them to leave their estate in a certain way.
The Government has sought to address these concerns in their guidance on making wills using video-conferencing. Within this guide, the Government has set out a number of suggestions and requirements to limit the risks to the parties involved, such as:
The Government suggests that where possible the will signing, and preferably the whole conversation, is recorded to enable it to be referred to at a later date should a dispute arise. It is also recommended that mention is made, perhaps even in the will itself, that the will signing has been recorded.
Also, given the unusual method of will signing, it is recommended that the will (particularly the attestation clause) is amended to reflect the fact that it is being signed remotely.
Although the Government has allowed wills to be signed remotely and has produced guidance to reduce errors, many risks still remain. It is important that a will is prepared accurately and covers all aspects of a person’s estate. Errors within wills can lead to an estate passing to the wrong people or in a way the testator never wished or imagined. It can also lead to disputes, which can be very costly to those involved.
For legal adviceGet in touch
Though it does not occur often, sometimes two people die in circumstances which render it difficult, or indeed impossible to determine who died first.
Since 2021, there has been a marked increase in Contentious Probate Claims noted by legal professionals practicing in this sector. It has been...