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John Stevenson, Conservative MP for Carlisle and Managing Partner of Bendles LLP, has raised his concerns regarding the virtual witnessing of Wills stating that Wills witnessed through such means open the opportunity for undue influence.
Prior to 28th September 2020 the Wills Act 1837 required Wills to be made in the physical presence of at least two witnesses. However changes have now been made to allow Wills to be witnessed through video link software such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. These changes shall remain in place until 31st of January 2022 as well as being backdated so as to include Wills dated after from the 31st of January 2020.
Whilst the requirement for two independent witnesses to Wills still remains, the probability of undue influence arising as a result of virtual witnessing has increased due to both the limited scope of vision that virtual link software provides in addition to the ability to mute a microphone and turn the camera off at any point during the virtual conversation. This can provide an opportunity for a third party to unduly influence Testators into requesting changes to be made to the Will without the knowledge of the instructed solicitor.
In the event that a Will is witnessed virtually, there is a chance that those who are hard of hearing or partially sighted, may struggle to use the technology in a manner which will allow the Will to be executed correctly. The instructed solicitor will need to ensure that the Testator is able to both see, hear and understand what is being conveyed to them. Furthermore, all parties must also be able to see the Testator sign the Will in order to properly witness the signing. This may require the camera being used to be moved to provide sight of the signing as opposed to simply seeing the Testator’s face and shoulders.
Once Testators have signed the Will, the original Will needs to be sent to both witnesses who must sign the document with the Testator witnessing their signatures in turn through virtual means. This may result in Wills taking several days to be fully signed and witnessed.
Therefore the best means of executing a Will remains in person and at Ramsdens we have taken steps to ensure your safety when visiting our offices to sign your Will.
Guidance is available here, however, when preparing such an important document as your Will it is always prudent to seek legal advice and at Ramsdens we are available to assist you and well adapted to the ever-changing circumstances.
December 21, 2020
Jodie is a Partner and Solicitors in the Private Client department.