Technology Being Used To Witness Will Signatures

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a lot of things up in the air. Practices and guidance that people have continued to follow for a long time, now no longer seem fit for purpose when you have to consider self-isolation and social distancing.

Adapting practices during this time can be difficult, especially when there are so many rigid rules that need to be adhered to, to ensure any legal documents you’re drafting up will stand the test of time.

However, Royds Withy King, have decided to venture down the route of using popular messaging and video calling software WhatsApp to ensure that people who are self-isolating due to contracting coronavirus are able to create or update their will.

Amanda Noyce, Partner at Royds Withy King, said:

“We have seen a significant interest from individuals wanting to either create or update their wills, but the strict lockdown regime has made the physical witnessing of wills all but impossible. We are having t think creatively to ensure that their final wishes are recorded.

“We have recently acted for a very ill individual with Covid-19, taking instructions from him via a WhatsApp video call. We were able to check that he was alone in the room to ensure he was not being coerced and then recorded his wishes.

“A draft will was emailed to him. The signing of his will was witnessed by his solicitor via a second video call and the solicitor’s wife. Both the solicitor and his wife signed the will as witnesses.

“The received wisdom in legal circles is that this may not be a truly valid will as the witnesses were arguable not ‘in the presence’ of the individual when signed, as stipulated by the Wills Act 1837.

“Unfortunately, while photography was proving very popular in the 1830s, law makers at the time did not envisage film and video calls let alone a worldwide pandemic.

“The Law Commission, when reviewing the legislation in 2017 did not take into account highly contagious individuals and the making of a will via video technology.

“We believe that many families will choose to accept wills witnessed by video as being valid, reflecting the true last wishes of a family member.

“But there will inevitably be those who would wish to challenge the terms of such a will. There will probably have to be a test case after lockdown eases to assess whether the judiciary believes that ‘presence’ can mean ‘via video link’.”

However, The Society of Will Writers, took to social media to remind it’s members, that this use of technology does not make the Will valid.

They posted on LinkedIn:

“REMINDER: For a Will to be valid it must be signed in the presence of two witnesses. You cannot witness your Will or your client’s Will by video call.

“Please do not mistake this headline for any announcement of a change in the law.”

Do you think ‘video wills’ like the one in this case will stand the validity test due to witnesses not being in the ‘presence’ of the testator?

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