A Warrington-based wills and probate solicitor has expressed concern over imminent changes to allow wills to be executed via video link.
The change in the law due in September, which will be backdated to 31 January 2020, is part of the government’s response to making it possible for the signing of wills to be witnessed remotely.
Under the current law, two witnesses must be physically present when a will is signed, however social distancing caused by COVID-19 has made this challenging.
However, Alex Mitchell, partner at Watsons Solicitors, is warning the changes to the rules announced by the Ministry of Justice on Saturday 25 July could put vulnerable people at risk and result in a rise in inheritance disputes.
She said: “There is no doubt that COVID-19 has made the act of signing a will with two witnesses present more difficult, but any changes need to be balanced against protecting the client from undue influence and fraud.
“The risks could far outweigh the benefits.
“For example, who is in the room but off-camera when a will is being signed? Are they influencing or coercing in any way, and does the client fully understand what they are doing?
“In addition, there could be questions raised about whether the quality of the image and audio was sufficient for the witnesses to be able to see and hear what was happening at the time.
“All of this could lead to an increase in wills being contested causing distress and heartache for loved ones.”
“It is critical that a will is properly executed to ensure clients’ wishes are complied with when they pass on.”
The Ministry of Justice has said the measure, which will allow individuals to use software such as Zoom, Skype and Facetime, will remain in place until January 2022, but this could be shortened or extended if deemed necessary.
Alex, who joined Watsons Solicitors, based on Bold Street in Warrington, in 2007, also questioned whether the change in law is absolutely necessary.
She added: “Since lockdown, we have adapted and overcome hurdles to ensure the validity of our clients’ wills.
“For example, we provide detailed briefing notes and offered phone calls to support clients through the signing and witnessing process. We also formed strong partnerships with local organisations who had key workers already visiting our clients such as doctors and care workers.
“As a last resort, we would offer to visit the client away from our offices for the purposes of executing their wills, while adhering to social distancing.
“We have demonstrated over the last four months, it is possible to adhere to all government guidelines, protect the health of all involved and execute a will without the need for video.
“We will monitor and review the new rules to carefully consider if they provide added value to our clients.”
Watsons Solicitors, which has been established for more than 60 years, specialises in family law, employment law, wills and probate, personal injury, and conveyancing.
The team of experienced solicitors hold various accreditations and memberships of professional bodies relevant to their expertise, while the firm’s partners oversee all areas of work.