It is welcome news that the government has relaxed the rules about the witnessing of Wills, bringing England in line with many other countries.
Wills normally need two witnesses, who must both be present when the Will is signed. As beneficiaries (and those married to beneficiaries) cannot be witnesses, that created serious problems during the recent lockdown. In some cases it was possible to arrange for the witnesses to watch the signing through the window of a house or a car, or perhaps at a short distance in the garden, but that is not always easy to organise.
The government is now allowing the witnesses to watch the signing process by video link. The Will then needs to be sent to the witnesses for them to countersign. This will generally make things much easier. But concerns remain that this process will be open to abuse. How are the witnesses to know that, just out of camera shot, there is not someone putting pressure (“undue influence”) on the testator to sign? And some elderly people might find the technology difficult to operate. Admittedly the current system is not perfect (see our recent Passle here on the 47% rise from 2018 to 2019 in contested Wills), but will there be a spike of undue influence cases following the deaths of those who have signed their Wills in this way? The advice has to be to use the traditional method wherever possible.
Wills witnessed using Zoom will be legalised under a change to the 183-year old rules to be announced this week by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).