On 1 February 2024, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice Mike Freer announced that the temporary amendment to the 1837 Wills Act made in July 2020 will not be extended beyond 31 January 2024. Vicki Gulliver, Head of the Probate team at Lodders, explains the update and its implications.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, legislation was introduced which amended the 1837 Wills Act stating that the normal requirement for two people to witness a testator signing their will in person could now include remote witnessing by video link. This temporary legislation was put into place because of the practical difficulties associated with having a will witnessed during periods of lockdown and when individuals were self-isolating or shielding.
The government had always provided guidance stating that video-witnessing wills should be seen as a last resort, however during 2020 and its subsequent lockdowns, this was often a necessary course of action. Whilst this change to the law lasted for four years, it was only ever intended to be a temporary measure, and there were concerns that video-witnessing could result in increased fraud and undue influence of elderly and vulnerable testators.
Reinstating the original Wills Act
As of 1 February 2024, it is no longer possible to witness a will via video in England and Wales, although wills that were executed via video witnessing between January 2020 and January 2024 will still be regarded as legally valid wills.
The original Wills Act 1837 will now come back into force, which states that no will is valid unless:
· it is in writing, and signed by the testator, or by some other person in his/her presence and by his/her direction
· it appears that the testator intended by his/her signature to give effect to the will
· the signature is made or acknowledged by the testator in the presence of two or more witnesses present at the time
· each witness either:
– attests and signs the will
– or acknowledges his/her signature in the presence of the testator (but not normally in the presence of any other witnesses), but no form of attestation shall be necessary
Whilst it is perhaps unsurprising that the government has made the decision to reinstate the original and established 1837 Wills Act, some argue that the move is not reflective of today’s digital society. The Law Commission launched a consultation into the reform of the law of wills in 2017, which included the use of electronic wills. This was later paused due to the pandemic, but it is likely that we will see discussions recommencing with regards to wills legislation in the near future.
Get in touch
Lodders’ Probate team understands the importance of managing estates correctly and can predict potential problems and ensure they are dealt with as swiftly as possible. Headed up by Vicki Gulliver, the Probate team provides a professional and comprehensive estate administration service and can deal with all necessary paperwork during what can be a trying time for beneficiaries.
If you have any questions about the changes to will witnessing outlined above, please get in touch: E: [email protected], T: 01789 206916.
Lodders is a premier law firm in Stratford upon Avon, Cheltenham, Henley in Arden, and Birmingham. Founded more 240 years ago, the firm offers expert legal advice across a range of legal services including private client, commercial law, real estate, and family law.
For more information, visit: www.lodders.co.uk