COVID-19 and the New Legislation for Will Signings during A Pandemic

You may have seen our news article in the EDP showing that during lockdown, Dawsons Law experienced a 60% increase in people seeking to make Wills. Nationally there has been a surge in people wanting to make Wills but for those shielding or self-isolating it has been extremely challenging for legal firms to follow the normal legalities in making a Will, especially the requirement that two witnesses are required and required to be present together.

In response to these difficulties the Government has introduced new laws to the Wills Act 1837, which will allow witnessing of Wills to include virtual presence, for example through video link.

This new legislation will apply to Wills that were made since the 31st January 2020. The reason for this date being this date is when the Government says the first case of Covid-19 was registered in England and Wales. As always there are exceptions to when this new legislation will apply.

The new legislation will apply until the 31st January 2022, however this may be shortened or extended as deemed necessary by the government.

The new legislation also applies to Codicils, which are the documents that formally modify or amend an original Will. However, best practice remains for both Codicils and Wills are for two witnesses to be present.

The new law will require that when distance witnessing a Will, there is a clear line of sight of the Will maker signing and the Will maker must also have a clear line of sight to both witnesses. Distance witnessing could take place with the witnesses looking through a window or open door of a house or vehicle or outdoors from a short distance from each other.

In the new law video witnessing will be allowed using a video link conferencing method if the person making the Will and the two witnesses each have a clear line of sight of the writing of the signature. The wording will change upon the signatory page of the Will to reflect that the signing and witnessing are being undertaken remotely.

The new legislation does not allow for electronic signatures. The Government has concerns that such signatures could lead to risks of undue influence or fraud against the person making the Will.

If you are seeking to prepare a Will, Dawsons Law prepare Wills on a Fixed Fee basis and work in partnership with the Institute of Cancer Research and Cancer Research UK to provide Wills for free schemes (Terms apply). If you would like further information, please telephone 01603 327280 and an appointment can be booked with one of our Solicitors Salena Dawson, Sophie Mitchell or Susannah Parr.