Hatch Brenner Solicitors have joined the Law Society and the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners in welcoming plans announced by the Government to introduce temporary legislation in September 2020 allowing the digital signing and witnessing of wills in England and Wales.
The new legislation, which is being introduced following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, will be backdated to apply to wills made since 31 January 2020 and it is expected to remain in force until at least 31 January 2022.
Alexandria Martin, Trainee Solicitor within the Private Client team at Hatch Brenner Solicitors in Norwich commented: “As we all adapt to the ‘new normal’, it is vital that legal legislation keeps pace with the demands of social distancing and pandemic prevention measures. This temporary legislation allowing the virtual signing and witnessing of wills and codicils via video conference technology like Zoom or Skype should be welcomed. Particularly during uncertain times, the process of drawing up a legally valid will gives individuals peace of mind and ensures their wishes will be carried out in the event of their passing.
“It is worth noting that the government guidance states that digital signing and witnessing via video link should be a last resort and where individuals can sign their wills in the conventional way, then they should do so. Hatch Brenner Solicitors has procedures in place to allow our clients to physically sign wills – either in our office on Theatre Street or at their home, within social distancing and covid-secure guidelines.”
Until now, for a will to be legally valid, it must be signed in the physical presence of two independent witnesses at the same time, who must then sign in the presence of the testator of the will. The new legislation varies the requirement of "presence" to allow for those witnessing a will to include virtual presence via video link as an alternative to physical presence. The standard formalities for executing a will under The Wills Act 1837 otherwise remain in force. The legislation may remain in force for a shortened or extended period than initially announced as deemed necessary.
The Ministry of Justice has stated that there are no additional plans in the immediate future to further relax the strict protocols around will signing and witnessing – for example to allow electronic signatures or counterpart wills.