COVID-19: Witnessing and Signing Wills Remotely

By Sarah Lockyer


As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has created a new temporary legislation which will allow Wills to be witnessed remotely.

When creating a Will, Section 9 of the Wills Act 1937 states that in order for the Will to be valid it must be in writing, signed by the person making the Will in the presence of two witnesses (at the same time) and then signed by the witness in the presence of the person who is making the Will.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the ability to witness a Will being signed whilst adhering to social distancing rules has proved challenging. For some, they have been able to ask neighbours to witness Wills or have solicitors attend their front gardens. However, for others, especially in situations where people are shielding or in hospital, this has not been possible.

There has been a huge spike in the demand of Wills during this pandemic, which is likely a result of people being more conscious of their finances and wanting to be prepared for their future.

With restrictions easing in much of the UK, this new legislation should be used as a last resort. It means that for those who are unable to leave their homes, or would otherwise have difficulties getting their Will witnessed, they can now use platforms such as Zoom, Skype or Facetime to do so.

Some guidance surrounding this new announcement states that where someone signs their Will over video call, their two witnesses must be able to clearly see the testator’s signature being signed and that any pre-recording is not acceptable.

This temporary amendment to Section 9 would seem like a practical and sensible step at this present time and has been welcomed by The Law Society and Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners (STEP); although it is not as simple as it may seem.

STEP has released some guidance setting out the process for Will signing using video. It has set out three stages involving multiple video calls to ensure the signature has been witnessed by the witnesses, and also that the witnesses’ signatures are seen by the testator.

It also mentions the need for the original Will to be sent to each witness, therefore extending the time it takes for the signing process. This delay that remote witnessing could cause brings into question:

  • What will happen if the testator dies before the witnesses are able to sign; and
  • What will happen if there are technical issues when signing?

The government has stated that the legislation will be backdated to 31 January 2020, so that any Wills that were witnessed remotely during the height of the pandemic are valid.

For some, this comes as a great relief as those who had their Wills witnessed remotely during lockdown have been worried regarding their validity.

This legislation is anticipated to continue until 31 January 2021, although this may be subject to change.

For more information and to find out how we can help you, please contact our Wills and Probate Team on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.