If you’re shielding, self-isolating or have another vulnerability it could be a problem to meet all the legal requirements for making a will as you usually need to be physically present with your witnesses when you sign your will. The covid-19 pandemic has meant coming up with inventive solutions for those extremely vulnerable people when they need to create a valid will. The government responded to these problems and allowed wills to be witnessed by video link on a temporary basis. The good news is that vulnerable people in England and Wales can continue to have their wills witnessed by video link until 31 January 2024. One important point to note is that this should be used as a last resort, and if it’s possible to arrange physical witnessing then that’s recommended. But can a will made by video be legal? Check out our handy guide for all you need to know to make sure your video will is valid.
Do witnesses always have to be in the same room to make a legal will?
The law already said it was perfectly legal to witness a will through windows, from a corridor or adjacent room with the door open or outdoors from a short distance. The important thing is that the will maker and the witnesses have a clear line of sight of each other.
What do I need to do to make a valid legal will by video?
The type of video-conferencing software used or the device isn’t important. What is important is that the will maker and the two witnesses have a clear line of sight of the writing of the signature. The witnesses can’t witness a pre-recorded video. They must see the will being signed in real time for the will to be valid. For your own peace of mind, make sure you record the video and witnessing process. This will protect you if the will is challenged and provide evidence for the court to show there was no fraud or undue influence.
Will a video will hold up in court?
Yes, but you need to follow a set of strict rules. Here’s a summary.
- The will maker ensures the two witnesses can see them, each other and their actions.
- The will maker asks for a recording of the witnessing to take place. The will maker could use the following phrase: “I [first name, surname], wish to make a will of my own free will and sign it here before these witnesses, who are witnessing me doing this remotely”.
- The will maker holds up the front page of the will to the camera to show the witnesses, and then turns to the page they will be signing and holds this up.
- The witnesses must see the will maker sign. They must see the will maker physically writing their signature, not just their head and shoulders. The will maker can say: “This is my signature, intended to give effect to my intention to make this will”.
- If the witnesses don’t know the will maker, they must ask for confirmation of their identity (eg, passport or driving licence).
- The witnesses confirm that they can see and hear the will maker, and that they understand their role. If possible, the two witnesses should be physically present with each other in the same room at the same time. Otherwise use a two- or three-way video link.
- The signed will is then physically taken to the two witnesses (or it could be done by post) for them to sign, ideally within 24 hours. It must be the same document that the will maker signed. A fully valid will is only made when the will maker and both witnesses have signed it. A partially completed will is not legal.
- Then there needs to be another recorded video call. The two witnesses must sign the will. The will maker must see them both sign the will and acknowledge that they’ve seen them sign it. Witnesses should hold up the will to the will maker to show them that they are signing it and should then sign it. It’s important that the will maker sees the witnesses actually writing their names. If the two witnesses are not physically together then this process has to happen twice. Once for each witness.
- The witnesses should hold up the signed will so that the will maker can clearly see the signature and confirm to the will maker that it’s their signature.
Are e-signatures ok to make a valid will?
No. E-signatures are not allowed. Signatures must be ‘wet’, which means that they must be physically written.
What’s the plan for the future?
There’s a possibility that these provisions will be extended and it opens the door to reform in the way that wills are executed. Perhaps this will lead to long-term digital execution to create legal wills.
What about Scotland and Northern Ireland?
In Scotland, only a lawyer can act as a witness via video conference. In Northern Ireland, you need specific instructions from a lawyer to witness a will by video.
Why should I make a will?
A valid legal will is a crucial document that will see your wealth distributed in exactly the way you want once you have passed away.
Put it like this, you wouldn’t want somebody to get their hands on your money, property or assets while you are alive without your permission, so why should you in death? Don’t let your money end up in the wrong hands because it might be simpler than you think to create a valid will without it costing you loads of money.
You’ll probably want your children or close family to benefit. There are plenty of ways for you to make a legal will. Check out our article on how you can make a will without a lawyer for a list of cost-effective options.
A cost-effective DIY solution: Lawpack’s Last Will & Testament Kit
For nearly 20 years, Lawpack has proved you can write your own will without it being expensive. Lawpack’s Last Will & Testament Kit gives you the confidence and the tools to follow straightforward steps to make a valid will without the need for legal advice.
Lawpack’s Last Will & Testament Kit has been approved by a solicitor and will provide you with all the information you need to make a valid will. There is a step-by-step solicitor-approved Guidance manual on writing a will and a choice of three ready-to-complete forms for use in England & Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland.
This DIY Kit is a good option for those who want to write their own will and need a bit of extra legal guidance, but can’t afford to use a lawyer to help them write their will.