The physical presence of traditional Will witnessing has been challenged due to COVID-19, resulting in The Ministry of Justice temporarily amending the Wills Act 1837 to allow Wills to be witnessed remotely using video technology.
This took effect at the end of September 2020, but will cover all Wills created between 31st January 2020 and 31st January 2022.
There is still cause for debate about how to address some of the gaps in guidance or concerns about fraud, all amounting to the potential for an increase in Will disputes. Here are some of the most common concerns raised to date:
Wills in transit: The original Will must be delivered to each witness within 24 hours after the previous signature was made. This comes with the risk of getting lost in transit, being fraudulently intercepted and changed while in transit, or the testator dying before all parties have signed.
Undue influence: Virtually, it is difficult to ensure the testator is not under undue influence to create or amend the Will outside of the camera’s view. If proven, this will automatically invalidate a Will.
Unstable video connections: Video quality and stability is not always consistent, which raises concerns about poor connections impacting the process, opening the door to disputes over Will validity.
A measure of last resort: The Ministry of Justice have stated this procedure must only be used as a last resort when restrictions make it impossible to witness safely in person. It is likely people will abuse this use of technology when in-person witnessing is a feasible option. This violates guidelines, and therefore can be used as an argument for someone disputing validity.
26 January 2021
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