A sigh of relief for Will Writers upon the announcement of the extension to video witnessing. With the pandemic showing no signs of ending anytime soon, having the option for the vulnerable or isolating to have their Wills legally recognised from the comfort of their own homes or places of care will likely prove to have a positive lasting effect.
While the pandemic has been tragic for so many of us, the steps being taken to increasingly digitise the process for Will Writing makes the steps not only for Will Writers, but Testators that much more accessible. Though these advancements are currently only temporary (until 31st January 2024), we may see an increase in adoption of this new method; as of 2020, the Law Society research discovered that 14% of legal professionals involved in making a Will capitalised on video-calling software. Since the beginning of learning to use Zoom in the office in the distant memory for 2020, the statistic for digital usage in this capacity is only going to have grown.
Though with new methods, comes new concerns; the potential for undue influence increases as the ability to assess the capacity of a client becomes more difficult over a video call, though there is still the requirement for two witnesses to ensure the legitimacy of the Will as we should expect. The current standpoint from the government is that video technology should “remain a last resort and people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of wills where it is safe to do so”.
Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab said:
- I want people to be able to use technology safely and securely to ensure they can record their final wishes no matter the circumstances.
- This is a common-sense measure that will give vulnerable people peace of mind that their wills are recognised if they are forced to have them witnessed via video due to isolation.
On the contrary, the move to use Video-Witnessed Wills in addition to traditional witnessing has gained support from organisations such as STEP as well as the Law Society of England and Wales. The Law Commission had already begun assessing the validity of video-witnessing among other methods to digitise document signing before the pandemic, whether they would like to make the changes to witnessing permanent.
Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce said:
- “Those who have used video witnessing have told the Law Society it has been a useful option to have: to help vulnerable people set their affairs in order when making a will in the physical presence of witnesses is not possible”.
In general, there appears to be a consensus that the improved accessibility of video-witnessing has brought about benefits that the industry believes to be worth considering for permanent introduction. While there are concerns regarding the security of this method from undue influence, sensibility and precaution during video witnessing will allow greater access for the public to reach out to all of us to ensure affairs are taken care of.
If you would like to find more information on the extension and in-depth guidance on video witnessing here: