Julian Sturdy, the MP for York Outer, is backing a campaign by York based solicitor Rachel Roche to “bring peace of mind” by introducing relaxed rules to allow Wills to be witnessed online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This would bring England and Wales into line with Scotland, Ireland and France who have already made significant changes to the way Wills are witnessed by using new technology and video calls.
With an estimated 30-40 per cent increase in people wanting to complete their Will and Lasting Power of Attorney in the face of the pandemic, Mr Sturdy said: “It is vital that ill and older people are still able to put their affairs in order in these disrupted times, without taking risks with their health by meeting more people than they have to.”
In March the Law Society of Scotland issued temporary practical guidance taking account of suggestions that instructions can be taken over a video conference call. In Ireland, Skype, FaceTime and email is being used by solicitors to draw up wills for their clients because of Covid-19 restrictions while in France they have approved the use of e-signature and video signing.
At present the England and Wales law states there must be two witnesses to the actual signing of a Will, however, The Law Society and the Ministry of Justice are discussing ways to deformalise the signing of Wills and to make it quicker to register lasting powers of attorney.
Mr Sturdy believes changing the current rules will have significant benefits and added:” I support this proposal as a practical response to the current situation, that will help bring peace of mind to many households. The fact this proposed change is already operational within the United Kingdom, and in our two closest neighbours is strong evidence that it can work. I hope the government will give this very serious consideration.”
Anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller is also urging the government to change the current legal arrangements around making a Will as set out in the Wills Act of 1837 and supports the use of video and other technology.
John Kitching at French Law Consultancy Limited has particular expertise in the situation across the Channel and outlined the changes that have taken place. He said: “Notaires are currently accepting probate powers of attorney without them being witnessed, as long as we have confirmed to the Notaires that we have explained the document to our client, and they provide signed and dated proof of identity.
“ For matters involving a sale of a French property, some Notaires are accepting powers of attorney witnessed by video call, with title documents signed by Electronic signature. We find it interesting that Will witnessing is a logistical problem in the UK, but in France the standard basic commonplace holographic Will solves this problem, as these types of Wills don’t need to be witnessed at all.”
As a key worker, Rachel Roche is continuing to visit bed-bound clients who need Wills and Last Power of Attorney signed at this difficult time. She is following the lockdown advice and is taking it case by case but in some situations there is no option but to be there rather than handling it remotely.
Note to editors:
Rachel is available for interview and can be contacted on 01904 866139 or through Chris Jones Media on 07774 772820/ 07738 005133.