The Government have announced a significant shake-up to the 183-year-old rules about signing Wills in England and Wales. Genuine issues for solicitors and those making Wills have come to the fore because of the practical difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Social-distancing has seen many solicitors resort to arranging for wills to be signed outside – for example on a garden table or even a car bonnet – or witnessed through a window where there is a line of sight to ensure that they are validly executed.
Under the previous rules, an individual must sign their Will in the presence of two independent adult witnesses for it to be valid. Changes to the rules now mean that witnesses no longer need to be physically present when someone signs their Will. So when someone signs their Will witnesses can virtually witness a Will using video conferencing. These changes will remain in place until 31 January 2022 or as long as deemed necessary.
Importantly the government has confirmed that Wills witnessed by video link can be retrospectively valid. Therefore Wills that were witnessed virtually from 31 January 2020 and during the Covid-19 pandemic may benefit from these changes. However despite this it is our view that Wills executed during this period should still be reviewed by an expert lawyer.
The government has published guidance on the virtual execution of Wills. Whilst this is helpful in some circumstances the guidance could still be difficult to adhere to.
Reiss Matthews a Partner in the Enoch Evans LLP Wills, Tax and Probate Team comments that “Whilst this is certainly a helpful change to the rules, at this stage we still consider that this should only be considered as a last resort. During the Covid-19 pandemic we at Enoch Evans LLP have found various inventive ways of signing Wills and complying with the rules. However, where possible we still feel that actually physically witnessing a Will in person, as opposed to virtual witnessing, leaves less room for a future legal challenge to a Will. Having this relaxation of the rules, does not reduce the need for all Will makers to take independent and professional specialist advice. In fact, many feel it increases this need”
The expert lawyers in the Wills, Tax and Probate team at Enoch Evans LLP have a wealth of experience in advising upon and drafting Wills. The Department is accredited by the Law Society for membership of its elite Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme (‘WIQS’). Enoch Evans LLP are also happy to store client’s Wills securely; this offers client’s peace of mind that the Will can easily be located by your Executors following your death and that your wishes will be followed.
If you wish to discuss the preparation of a Will please contact either Richard Neea on 01922 720 333 or Reiss Matthews on 0121 725 2290