Invalidly witnessed wills rise during lockdown
There are fears that the number of invalidly witnessed wills may have substantially increased during lockdown, leading to an increased number of inheritance claims being made. For guidance on challenging the validity of a will call our free legal helpline on 0333 888 0407 or send us an email.
The law in England and Wales has always required wills to be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses. Wills could not be witnessed remotely via video link because the witnesses’ physical presence was required. However the Ministry of Justice has recently changed that rule on a temporary basis, enabling people to use video conferencing software.
Under the new rules the testator can sign their will and post it to their witnesses for signing during a web conference, using platforms such as Zoom or Facetime.
These new rules are being backdated to 31 January 2020.
However, there remains scope for misunderstanding and if a will is not witnessed in accordance with the strict legal rules (either the traditional ones or the temporary rules that allow remote signing) then it will be open to legal challenge.
For instance, wills still need to be personally signed. Electric signatures are not acceptable and would render the will invalid.
If a will is declared invalid then it wont have legal effect. The estate would then pass in accordance with the last validly made will. If there is no valid will then the intestacy rules will apply.
Problems could also arise as a result of people making their will in a rush during lockdown, especially if they have failed to properly consider making provision for those who may have a claim on the estate. This could lead to an Inheritance Act claim being made.