COVID-19 bending will witnessing rules in England and Wales

The Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk, was asked  what assessment he has made of the implications of social distancing for the requirement in the Wills Act 1837 that a person who may be a vulnerable individual be in the physical presence of two independent witnesses when signing a will; and if he will enable (a) video conferencing and (b) privileged wills in those cases during the covid-19 outbreak.

The Secretary replied that “the Government is currently reviewing the case for reform of the law on making wills given current circumstances.

The constraints of the Covid-19 situation must be balanced against the important safeguards in the law to protect elderly and vulnerable people in particular against undue influence and fraud. Having two independent witnesses provides safeguards to those making wills. Privileged wills are a long 

established convention restricted to people making wills when on active military service where the normal formalities cannot be observed, but which do not equate to the current civil circumstances. Other reform measures are being considered at present.

In the longer term, the Government will consider reforms to the law on wills arising from the forthcoming Law Commission report on wills, which will explore a range of issues reviewing the current law and the case for reform (including on the use of technology).

The Government is committed to considering further work on witnessing documents by video-conference generally, in the light of the recent Law Commission report on Electronic Execution of Documents, which will help to inform potential reforms to the law on wills in the future.