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Virtual will witnessing to be made legal during coronavirus pandemic

The Government is set to make it legal to witness wills virtually in England and Wales for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the law, a will must be made in the presence of two witnesses to be considered legal, to protect people against undue influence or fraud.

But the Government has now confirmed that new legislation set to be introduced in September will mean that witnesses can be present either physically or virtually. As a result, wills which are witnessed via video link using platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime will be recognised as legal.

The legislation will apply in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate legal systems around the validity of wills.

The new measures will be backdated to 31 January 2020, meaning any wills which have already been witnessed virtually during the pandemic will be considered legal. The temporary rule change will be in place until 31 January 2022, or "as long as deemed necessary" – after this, physical witnesses will be required for wills as usual.

The Government says witnessing wills using virtual technology should be a last resort, and physical witnessing should still be used where it's safe to do so – but the change will give more flexibility to those who are shielding or self-isolating due to the pandemic.

It's already considered legitimate for wills to be witnessed through a window, as long as the witnesses have clear sight of the person signing.

Our Cheap Wills guide has more info on low-cost options for writing a will.

How will virtually witnessing wills work?

When witnessing a will via video link, the witnesses must see the will being signed in real time – so you can't use a pre-recorded video. If possible, the whole witnessing process should be recorded and the recording should be kept in case the will is challenged.

It's also vital that the quality of the sound and video is high enough to see and hear what is happening.

When the will-maker signs the will, the witnesses must be able to see them actually writing their signature on the will, not just their head and shoulders (and vice versa when the witnesses sign). Electronic signatures are not allowed.

The Government has issued official guidance on signing wills virtually.

What does the Government say?

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: "We are pleased that more people are taking the incredibly important step to plan for the future by making a will.

"We know that the pandemic has made this process more difficult, which is why we are changing law to ensure that wills witnessed via video technology are legally recognised.

"Our measures will give peace of mind to many that their last wishes can still be recorded during this challenging time, while continuing to protect the elderly and vulnerable."

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