07:20, March 31 168 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-31 07:20:03
UK examines ways to make writing wills easier during Covid-19 crisis

The Ministry of Justice is examining ways to relax rules around will writing following a surge in the number of people making preparations for their final farewell.

Currently, for a will to be valid, it must be signed by two witnesses present at the same time, and the witnesses must be independent and not related to the person to whom the will applies. Under current social distancing measures, especially for those in isolation at home or in hospital, it is almost impossible to adhere to the rules.

The Ministry of Justice is now looking at a temporary relaxation in the rules, which could involve reducing the number of witnesses required, or possibly accepting other solutions, such as video witnessing.

But the MoJ said any temporary relaxation of the rules would have to be balanced against the risk of fraud, with the rule about two independent witnesses historically in place to protect the vulnerable.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “This is a delicate area of law and we absolutely must continue protect the elderly and vulnerable against potential fraud. While there are no current plans to change the law, we will consider all options and keep this under review during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (Steps), which represents professional will writers, said it has been in talks with the MoJ to ease the rules.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is leading to a large rise in the number of people making or updating their wills,” said Emily Deane, technical counsel at Step. We are hopeful that the Ministry of Justice will implement temporary legislative measures to facilitate will writing at this time while remaining mindful of the potential scope for abuse in these situations. Now, more than ever, it is important for people to be attentive when putting together or updating their will to ensure that it will be valid.”

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The Law Society has also been in discussion with the MoJ to make the signing of wills and powers of attorney easier and quicker.

James McNeile, a partner at law firm Royds Withy King, said: “Options being discussed include wills that do not need witnesses at all, as in much of mainland Europe, an Australian-style approach that givesjudges greater flexibility over what constitutes a will, wills and powers of attorney witnesses electronically, and provisions that mirror the way serving military personnel can make a will.”

An 1837 act allows for “privileged wills” for members of the armed forces to make either a written or an oral will and, if written, there is no requirement for witnesses.

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