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15 September 2020

Virtual Will Signing – Q&A

In the early stages of the coronavirus, Private Client solicitors in the legal profession reported an increase in demand for Will instructions as individuals and families rushed to update their Will or considered making one for the first time.

Social distancing guidelines meant that usual face to face meetings were not permitted and made the task far more challenging than usual for the client and Solicitor. Fast forward six months to September 2020 and Private Client solicitors are seeing a big change in the rules around signing and witnessing a Will, to include virtual Will signing. Wills, Trusts and Probate Solicitor Amy Taylor reviews common questions raised in a recent Law Society Q&A and considers steps which must be followed to make sure the virtual signing is valid and whether Wills signed virtually before September 2020 are valid?

Q1. What changes are being made to the law to include virtual Wills?

The Wills Act 1837 has been amended to allow Wills to be witnessed via video-link, as an alternative to physical presence. Making Wills in the conventional way is still preferable and virtual Will signing should only be used as a last resort.

Q2. How do I sign a Will virtually?

The person making the Will and the two Witnesses must have a clear line of sight of each other using an appropriate video conferencing application. The Will maker should hold up the document they intend to sign and then before signing they should state the following ‘I intend to make a Will of my own free will and sign it here before these witnesses, who are witnessing me doing this remotely’. The Will should be dated the day the Will maker signs it, but it will not be valid until both witnesses have also signed.

It is often difficult when video conferencing for all three parties to see each other and the page where the Will is being signed at the same time. If this is the case the Will maker should sign and then acknowledge their signature for both witnesses.

Once the Will has been signed by the Will maker, they should immediately send it to the witnesses and a second video call will be necessary for the witnesses to sign in the virtual presence of the Will maker and each other. I would recommend that both witnesses are from the same office/address to avoid having to have a third call for the second witness to sign at a different address.

Q3. If a Will was signed virtually before September 2020, is it valid?

Yes – the legislation has retrospective effect and will apply to all Wills made between 31st January 2020 and 31st January 2022, subject to review if required.

Q4. What are the main issues that could arise if someone chooses to virtually sign a Will themselves without expert advice from a solicitor?

I would advise against completing a virtual Will signing without seeking legal advice. A qualified practitioner will ensure that the procedure is followed correctly and a detailed note is saved on the file. They will also check for any issues of undue influence, fraud or lack of capacity.

Q5. Which top tips would you give someone looking to have their Will virtually signed and witnessed?

  1. Take legal advice from a qualified practitioner from the outset
  2. Do not attach anything to the Will when sending it in the post
  3. Preferably use recorded delivery
  4. As soon as you are able to sign the Will in the physical presence of two witnesses you should arrange to re-sign the Will.

If you would like to speak to a member of our specialist Wills, Trusts and Probate team about making or updating your Will, please do not hesitate to contact us on probate@steeleslaw.co.uk or by calling 01379 652141 and a member of the team will be happy to assist.

*The information provided in this article is designed to provide useful information on the subject, not to provide specific legal advice.

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