The rules around signing and witnessing a Will change this month to include virtual will signing. But what steps must be followed to make sure the virtual signing is valid? Are Wills signed virtually before September 2020 valid? Michael Brierley discussed this and more live on Twitter this morning during #SolicitorChat.
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What changes are being made to the law to include virtual Wills?
The Wills Act 1837 is being amended to allow Wills to be signed with witnesses not being physically present. This can now be done ‘virtually’ or remotely – with the witnesses watching via live online video.
Talk us through the steps of signing a Will virtually.
The testator needs to ensure a good internet connection with the witnesses and that they are able to clearly see the Will and it being signed. The witnesses should both confirm they are happy to act as witnesses and the testator should then sign the Will.
The signed Will should then be securely sent to the two witnesses who then have to go through this process again with the testator and the other witness watching as they sign. Once everyone has signed it then the Will can be said to be duly executed.
If a Will was signed virtually before September 2020, is it valid?
Yes, the legislation being passed in September is going to retrospectively cover Wills signed in this way after 31st January 2020 – anything before that is unlikely to be considered valid. This date is when the first case of Covid 19 was recorded and is recognition that these measures have been brought in due to the changing situation caused by the virus.
What are the main issues that could arise if someone chooses to virtually sign a will themselves without expert advice from a solicitor?
The most obvious one is the possibility of the will going missing before the witnesses have added their signatures. Putting any original document in the post always carries a risk – but personal experience over the past several months suggests that this is a particular problem at the moment.
More nefarious is the increased prospect of lacking capacity, undue influence and fraud. It is not the job of witnesses to assess a testator’s capacity or whether they are being unduly influenced however their presence in the room may add a level of safety that wouldn’t be there if done remotely.
What top tips would you give someone looking to have their will virtually signed and witnessed?
Use a solicitor. We can still do everything remotely but with a solicitor you can be confident that the document being signed and then witnessed is the same one – and that this reflects the intentions of the testator. Whilst they could still be giving instructions with someone else in their room, solicitors are trained to consider questions and issues and ensure, to the best degree, that their client is able and freely giving their instructions.
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