Remote witness wills via a video link will become legal in England and Wales to make it easier for people to record their last wills during the pandemic.
The change in the law will be backdated to January 31, the date of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the UK, the government said.
This means that any will observed remotely from this date will be legally accepted.
This measure will remain in effect until January 2022.
The deadline could be shortened or extended if deemed necessary, the Justice Department said.
Under current law, a will must be made in the physical presence of at least two witnesses, but social distancing measures have made this difficult.
For a will to be legally valid, in the current state of the law, you must:
- Be 18 years of age or older
- Do it voluntarily
- Be sane
- Do it in writing
- Sign it in the presence of two witnesses over the age of 18
- Have it signed by your two witnesses, in your presence
- You cannot leave anything for your witnesses (or their married partners) in your will
During the lockdown, many people turned to video conferencing software as a communication solution, using platforms such as Zoom or FaceTime.The ministers said wills witnessing the use of this type of technology would be considered legal, provided the sound and video quality was sufficient to see and hear what was going on at the time.
The law change to include video testimony of wills will be made in September.
Two witnesses – who are not beneficiaries – will always be needed, helping to protect people from undue influence and fraud, the government said. Electronic signatures will not be allowed.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “We know the pandemic has made this process more difficult, which is why we are changing the law to ensure that wills observed via video technology are legally recognized.
“Our measures will give many peace of mind that their last wishes can still be saved during this difficult time, while continuing to protect the elderly and vulnerable. ”
However, the government has said that the use of video technology should remain a last resort and people should continue to organize physical testimony of wills where it is safe to do so.
Wills viewed through windows are already considered legitimate, provided the person signing them is clearly visible.
Emily Deane, technical advisor at Step, a professional body made up of lawyers and accountants, said: “We are delighted that the government has responded to industry calls to allow testimony by video conference.
“By removing the need for any physical witness, wills can continue to be drafted effectively, efficiently and securely by those who isolate. ”
She also welcomed the decision to apply the change retrospectively, saying it would reassure anyone who had no choice but to execute a will in this way before the law was passed.