The New, Temporary Will-Writing Legislation: Video-Witnessing
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused a dramatic increase in the number of people wanting to make a will to protect their loved ones for the unexpected, and the social distancing and lockdown measures have also led to more and more people writing their own will online, in the comfort of their own home.
For a will to be legally-binding, two witnesses must watch you (the testator) sign the document and they must also sign it; if this isn’t done correctly, your will could end up being invalid and won’t be any use to your family when you pass away.
Social distancing rules have, however, made it difficult for many people to carry out the act of witnessing properly and safely, particularly if they are unable to leave their home. To help, the government is introducing a new, temporary rule to make life easier for those wanting to put their final wishes into a will.
In September 2020, the act of witnessing the signing of a will via a video conferencing platform, such as Zoom, FaceTime or Skype, will be made legal, temporarily - provided that you meet specific requirements, which we will explain in this guide.
Making a Will at Home - Are online wills legal?
An increasing number of people are turning away from the idea of having a costly solicitor to help them make a will, and are instead making use of online will-writing services as a more convenient and affordable option.
Without the help of a solicitor though, you may be wondering whether or not it is safe to make a will online and whether or not it will be legally-binding, but writing a will at home couldn’t be easier and safer provided you choose a professional will-writing service that offers the additional support of legal advisors who can check your will to make sure it has been made in line with UK law (as per the Wills Act 1837).
As long as you follow the necessary steps below, your will will be legal and there shouldn’t be any problems for your loved ones when the time comes.
How to make a will legally-binding
To make sure your will is legally-valid as per UK law, you must meet the following rules:
- You are over 18
- You are making a will voluntarily
- You are of sound testamentary capacity (you fully understand what you are doing)
- You must create the will in writing
- You must sign your will in front of two witnesses (who are also over 18)
- Your chosen witnesses must also sign your will in front of you
- Your witnesses must not be beneficiaries of your will and they must not be your spouse or civil partner
By following the above rules, you will make a legally-binding will, and this will help prevent any potential disputes between your family members or loved ones later on.
Getting witnesses to sign your will at a safe distance
While having two witnesses watch you sign your will and sign it themselves are essential steps of the will-writing process, it is also important that this is done in-line with the current government rules and guidelines.
Everyone is still expected to follow social distancing rules, but this doesn’t mean you can’t get your witnesses to physically sign your will or watch you sign it. Here are a few ways in which you could do it at a distance (as long as it is safe):
- Outdoors in an open space (garden, park, etc.)
- Through a window
- Through the front door of a house or vehicle
- Via the room next to you with the door open or corridor (e.g. at work)
It is currently advised that the witnessing takes place physically where possible, and video conferencing should be a last resort for those who are unable to leave their home due to the fact they are shielding or self-isolating.
Witnessing the signature through video conferencing platform
Using a video-link to carry out the acts of signing and witnessing will soon be made temporarily legal in September 2020. This new legislation is being enforced to help those who are vulnerable and want to safely write a will during the pandemic.
The type of video platform you use is not important; you can use whatever tool you want, such as FaceTime, Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Skype, but the video must be of high quality so that all actions can be seen (and heard) clearly and there is nothing to cause dispute.
The entire process of video-witnessing must be live at all times, and witnesses are not allowed to watch a pre-recorded video of the testator (person writing the will) signing it.
For extra peace of mind, it is important that you record the whole process with a separate camera if possible. If there are ever any disputes raised in the future, the video can be shown to prove that it was created in a legally-valid way.
The process of video-witnessing
It is worth noting that contested wills are very common and problems can arise, so it’s important that you get the whole process of writing a will right, particularly if you’re going to use a video link to help with the witnessing stage.
By failing to follow the correct process, your will is likely to become void and your estate will not be distributed as per your wishes – instead, it will be shared out in line with the UK’s intestacy rules.
There are 4 main steps to follow when video-witnessing, unless you need to repeat the last process, in which case there will be 5.
- Before you start, the testator or witness should ask for the process to be recorded.
- You must make sure that your witnesses can see you clearly, and vice versa.
- All actions must be seen clearly on screen.
- To begin the video-witnessing process, you should use a phrase that clearly explains what this video entails for legal reasons. For example, you could say: “I, (full name), want to make a will voluntarily and sign it here in front of these two witnesses, who are acknowledging me signing it remotely”.
- Show the front page of the will document to your witnesses, as well as the signature page.
- If any of the witnesses do not know the testator, they should request that the will-writer proved their identity with their driving licence or passport.
- Both witnesses must confirm on screen that they fully understand what is expected of them; that they are being witnesses and signing a legal will document. They must also confirm that they can hear you properly and see you clearly before witnessing your signature.
- Make sure you are signing your will in clear sight, and not just showing your head and shoulders.
- Both witnesses must be present during the video call.
- After you have signed your will via video call, with both your witnesses watching you sign it, the same will document will need to be taken to the witnesses for them to sign.
- This should be done within 24 hours if possible – you increase the risk of future legal disputes arising if this window is any longer.
- Both witnesses must sign the will and the testator must also be able to witness this clearly, so they may need to hold it up when doing so.
- Everyone involved must be fully aware of what’s going on.
- If you are able to, you should also record this step to avoid future legal disputes.
If your witnesses cannot be present at the same time, step 4 will need to be repeated with the remaining witness – keeping in-line with the steps above. Ideally, however, it would be better if you were all together in the same place to do it.
For more information regarding the process of video-witnessing, visit the GOV.UK website.
How long will the legislation last for and are there any exceptions?
The new video-witnessing legislation is due to take effect from September 2020; it only applies to wills that have been made since 31st January 2020, and it will remain in place for just two years, until 31st January 2022. This may change if required.
Once the two-year period has ended, people will have to make wills in the traditional way, without video-calling.
The new rule does not apply:
- If a Grant of Probate has already been made
- If the will is currently being administered
To avoid your will being contested, we recommend that you try to do the witnessing and signing in the conventional way, in person. The government is still urging people to make a will this way if they can.
If there is no way for you to do this physically then video-witnessing should be used as a last resort. Just be sure to document the whole process clearly as per the government’s rules.
Who can witness a will signature?
In the UK, witnesses of a legal will document must not be:
- Under 18
- Your husband, wife or civil partner
- Family members
- Beneficiaries of the will (people who you want to receive inheritance from your estate)
- The husband, wife or civil partner of any beneficiaries
- Blind or partially sighted
- Someone without mental capacity who is unable to understand what they must witness and sign
If you get one of the above people to sign and witness your will, it is going to cause some serious problems for your loved ones when you pass away and they won’t receive what you intended them to.
A witness needs to be someone who is completely independent of your will. For example, they could be:
- Your neighbour
- A friend
- A colleague
- The executor of your will (provided that they are not a beneficiary)
- Your GP
Whoever you choose to be your two witnesses, remember that they must both be present to witness you signing your will at the same time.
Can an online will be signed electronically?
If you make a will online, it must be printed off so that you and your witnesses can sign it physically, in writing. Otherwise, it won’t be legally-binding.
Despite recent law reviews, the government is not permitting people to sign their will electronically, as this can increase the risk of fraud. A real-life signature is also better proof that the testator was not wrongly influenced when making their own will.
How to make a will at home, without a solicitor
There are some reputable will-writing services online that offer an affordable service for people who want to create their own will in their own time and in the comfort of their own home.
When looking for the best online will-writing service, you should check to see whether or not you get the additional support of a legal expert or advisor who will check your will for any legal mistakes or potential issues. This way, you can rest assured that your homemade will is legally valid and you’re loved ones will inherit what you intended them to.
To find out about the most reputable and affordable online will-writing services, head over to our useful guide: Cheap and Free Wills Services in the UK.
Alternatively, take a look at our related articles below for further advice.