"We are coming across more and more people who want to create or update their existing will and its great they can do it remotely - safely and legally - where necessary."
Richard Thomson, chairman at Kinherit
The government is to legalise the remote witnessing of wills – making it easier for people to record their final wishes during the coronavirus pandemic.
The change to the law will be backdated to January 31, the date of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the UK.
The team at end-of-life planning firm Kinherit in Bristol has welcomed the move. Richard Thomson, chairman at Kinherit, said: “Lockdown and self- isolation has not put people off putting their affairs in order.
“We are coming across more and more people who want to create or update their existing will and it’s great they can do it remotely - safely and legally - where necessary.”
Currently, the law states that a will must be made ‘in the presence of’ at least two witnesses. But people who have been isolating or shielding have turned to video link software such as Zoom or FaceTime.
Ministers announced on Saturday, July 25, that wills witnessed in such a way will be deemed legal, provided the sound and video quality is sufficient to see and hear clearly.
Richard, who has worked in finance for over 20 years, including as a company advisor and investor, said: “Current laws around the signing of Wills have been in place since 1837.
“We believe that this will be a massive step forward and will continue to positively affect the industry for generations.”
Crucially, the move maintains the vital safeguard of requiring two witnesses – protecting people against undue influence and fraud.
The number of inheritance disputes brought to the high court has jumped eight-fold in 10 years with many more ending up in the county court.
And those contesting wills typically claim there was “undue influence” or the person writing the will did not have the “mental capacity” at the time.
The team at Kinherit are specialists trained to understand testamentary capacity. They take contemporaneous records of all communications, which means it is noted at the time of the event and deemed reliable. This is then stored on their Kinvault, a secure online vault.
Richard, an Oxford University graduate, who has worked in the debt advisory and restructuring team at the investment bank N M Rothschild & Sons, said: “We are able to record and store the remote signing securely, along with their other detailed wishes. We help ensure the process is simple, secure and sound.”
Changes for ‘as long as deemed necessary’
Changes are set to come into effect in September, which amends the law to include video-witnessing.
Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, said: “We are pleased that more people are taking the incredibly important step to plan for the future by making a will.
“We know that the pandemic has made this process more difficult, which is why we are changing law to ensure that wills witnessed via video technology are legally recognised.
“Our measures will give peace of mind to many that their last wishes can still be recorded during this challenging time, while continuing to protect the elderly and vulnerable.”
The change is set to remain in place until 31 January 2022, or as long as deemed necessary, after which wills must return to being made with witnesses who are physically present.
The use of video technology should remain a last resort, where physical witnessing would be unsafe to carry out.
Wills witnessed through windows are already considered legitimate in case law, as long as they have clear sight of the person signing it.
Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: “The government’s decision to allow wills to be witnessed remotely for the next two years will help alleviate the difficulties that some members of the public have encountered when making wills during the pandemic.”