Kent law firm Furley Page has welcomed a change in the law that will enable the signing of wills remotely using video conferencing software, and said the new rules will protect people who are self-isolating or shielding during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Government has announced two key developments which affect people making a will or acting under a power of attorney. The new rules – which will be backdated to 31 January – will allow signatures to be witnessed using video conferencing software such as Zoom, Facetime or Skype.
Aaron Spencer, Partner and Head of Private Client at Furley Page, said: “Under current law, a will must be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses to be valid. This has always been viewed as a crucial safeguard to protect people against undue influence and fraud.
“However, with the UK having been under lockdown for months, and large swathes of the population still self-isolating or shielding, meeting this legal requirement has proved challenging.
“In a welcome move the Government has now announced the legalisation of wills witnessed remotely, making it easier for people in England and Wales to record their final wishes during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Although the move is welcome, the use of video technology should remain a last resort, and people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of wills where it is safe to do so.
“There have also been some concerns raised about how the new rules will work in practice, such as whether there will be sufficient protection to ensure the person signing the will is not being influenced or coerced by someone else in the room. However, when properly managed using video streaming, there is no reason that adequate precautions against undue influence cannot be taken.”
The change will remain in place until 31 January 2022, or ‘as long as deemed necessary’, after which wills must return to being made with witnesses who are physically present, the Government has said.
The Government has published guidance on making wills using video-conferencing: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/guidance-on-making-wills-using-video-conferencing
Also in July, the Office of the Public Guardian announced the launch of a new digital ‘Use a Lasting Power of Attorney’ tool which is designed to help those acting as an attorney to contact organisations like banks and healthcare providers more easily.
It replaces the current paper-based process which can lead to weeks of delay, as documents need to be requested and confirmed between organisations and individuals, before being posted as physical copies. The online system can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/office-of-the-public-guardian
Aaron Spencer said: “Crucially, the new tool maintains existing checks, including confirming whether someone has the legal right to act as an attorney and the powers they may be entitled to, thus ensuring that the vulnerable and elderly are still protected from abuse of a lasting power of attorney.”
If you are thinking about drawing up or updating a will, or you wish to discuss arranging a lasting power of attorney, contact Aaron Spencer by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by telephone on 01227 763939.
Press release issued August 2020
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