Temporary legislation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing the practice of video-witnessing wills, has now come to an end, just over three years after it was introduced.

Originally introduced as a last resort in 2020, during the pandemic; the temporary legislation has been met with increasing speculation of fraud and undue influence.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Bellamy, has announced the ‘last resort’ legislation shall come to an end. His justification being that the special circumstances in which it was introduced around no longer apply.

The scrapping of this legislation has been met with some concern from people, citing that the virtual witnessing of wills is progressive and more accessible.

Post pandemic, many workplaces have made permanent change, embracing hybrid and remote practices. However, remote working where wills are involved, is not to stay.

Why was it introduced?

Wills are legally required to have two witnesses’ signatures, under the 1837 Wills Act. Historically, these two witnesses would be in the presence of the person making the will.

When the pandemic hit, many restrictions were put upon people and practices, meaning that face-to-face appointments were prohibited. Due to this, emergency legislation around the 1837 Wills Act, had to be introduced.

Guidance was published regarding the quality of remote witnessing by the government and the professional bodies. The guidance included ensuring the sound and quality of the video is at a sufficient level.

In January 2022, it was deemed that there was still a risk of further Coronavirus strains, and as we had just come out of the back of another lockdown, the legislation was extended for another two years.

The extension was a precaution, but also allowed time for the Law Commission to consider the law around wills, and any potential reforms.

The risk of remote will witnessing

The Law Society has stated that they believe remote video witnessing was a sensible policy during the pandemic but have since found that, with the ending of Covid-19 restrictions, only half of their members support the use of remote witnessing.

Some lawyers have spoken out against video-witnessing, noting that it is much harder for solicitors to detect any undue influence, which can lead to an increasing number of families contesting the document’s validity.

Since the temporary legislation came to an end, there has been a surge in inheritance disputes, with the number of caveats submitted to block probate increasing by 38% year-on-year.

Remote witnessing has allowed for greater suspicion and speculation from families, which has led to an increase in disputes, despite there often being no undue influence or fraud.

Why has it not been extended?

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Courts and Legal Services, Mike Freer, made a statement to the house of commons following the scrapping of the temporary measure. Once again mentioning that the circumstances in which it was introduced are no longer prevalent:

This temporary legislation was a response to the practical difficulties of having wills witnessed while restrictions on movement to limit the spread of the virus were in force, and at a time when more people wanted to make wills.

The government has always provided guidance that video-witnessing wills should be regarded as a last resort due to increased risks of formalities not being properly followed or risk of undue influence.

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