• April 23, 2024
 The end of video witnessing for wills in the UK: A step backwards for modern legal practices?

The end of video witnessing for wills in the UK: A step backwards for modern legal practices?

In perhaps a somewhat predictable move, the UK government has decided not to renew the temporary legislation allowing for the video witnessing of wills, a measure introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate the legal process while adhering to lockdown restrictions.

This decision marks a return to the traditional requirements of the Wills Act 1837, which mandates the physical presence of witnesses during the signing of a Will, effective from February 1, 2024.

This legislative change, initially implemented as a response to the pandemic’s challenges, was seen by many as a progressive step towards modernising legal practices, offering flexibility and convenience to those who needed it. However, the government’s decision not to extend these measures has raised concerns within the legal community and among the public about the future of legal reforms and the adaptability of the law to modern technology.

The legal space has always been slow to adapt to technology. In fact, until COVID, many law firms didn’t even have a cloud-based practice management system – with stories of lawyers “sneaking into the office just to grab files” abound.

Legal advisors and clients alike are now faced with the task of adapting to these reverted requirements, potentially increasing the complexity and logistical challenges of executing Wills. 

While the Law Society stated that roughly half of advisors support these changes, this reversion is an important inflection point to consider what the future of estate planning will look like going forward.

Law Society of England and Wales president Nick Emmerson stated that “Video witnessing when making a will, obtaining probate or administering an estate, introduces a further level of risk which solicitors need to assess and manage” – which is true. But if it’s best for your client, isn’t it worth doing that assessment?

Some important questions to reflect upon for the future of the industry:

  • How have clients’ expectations of engaging with service providers changed in 2024?
  • Despite lawyers’ resistance to technology, the popularity of online Will solutions and other services indicates a clear desire by the public for these – How can firms adapt their practice to provide an equal or better level of service?

Currently only 44% of Adults have a Will in the UK – It’s difficult to see how we can get that number to increase, without increasing ease of accessibility and reducing friction/removing barriers

As the legal profession and the public navigate these changes, there is a growing call for a comprehensive review of the Wills Act to reflect contemporary society’s needs more accurately. The debate continues on how best to balance the need for security and authenticity in legal documents with the expectations of the modern world.

This article was submitted to be published by BePrepared as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Wills and Probate. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Wills and Probate.

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