Consumers welcome video witnessing of wills

At least 36% of consumers of will writing services would be be happy to complete their wills online using online video conferencing technology to facilitate the remote witnessing of their signatures.

This finding is made in the UK Wills & Probate Consumer Research Report 2020, which is published by the leading market research consultancy firm IRN.  The statistic is based on a survey of 2,093 adults, 755 of whom had made a will in the conventional manner: by signing their will in the physical presence of two witnesses, as opposed to arranging for them to observe the signing procedure online.

In our view it is likely that a much higher percentage of legal consumers would welcome a video will witnessing service that saves them from the health risk, cost and inconvenience of attending a solicitor’s office in person, if only this was more widely available. Our precedent setting use of video witnessing has proved to be a great success.

Unfortunately the overwhelming majority of legal practitioners (solicitors and unregulated will writing businesses) are not prepared to offer this as a service. Their reluctance is partly the result of a disinclination to change well entrenched practices and party due to a misconception, widely held within the legal profession.  Most lawyers suffer from the mistaken perception that that prior to 28 September 2020 the unamended section 9 of the Wills Act 1837 insisted on a witnesses physical attendance. Indeed, for at least six months after the onset of the first lockdown, the Law Society actively discouraged video witnessing, by wrongly insisting on its members ensuring the physical attendance of testamentary witnesses despite the evident health risks posed by Covid-19.

This firm is proud of the fact that when it was approached by a self-isolating client wanting to make a will in late April it decided to undertake its own research (in association with its strategic partner Solicitors Title LLP), when the Law Society refused to enter into a dialogue or to explain its reasons. Our ground breaking joint research paper (by Dr Nicholas Bevan) revealed that video witnessing of wills, properly conducted, was fully consistent with over three hundred years of case law on this topic.  We administered the nation’s first video witnessed will on 1 May.

We later published our research and launched a highly successful lightening law reform campaign that persuaded the government to pass the Wills Act 1837 (Electronic Communications) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Order 2020. This emergency legislation took the unprecedented step of being given retrospective effect,  which sanctions (by statutory ) the action we took in May;  based as it was on well established common law principles as well as simple common sense.

The same research paper by IRN reveals that at least half of the legal consumers it interviewed would welcome substituting face to face consultations in person with video conferencing.  In our opinion, this is hardly surprising but only a few law firms offer video conferencing as a routine alternative to a conventional meetings in person.

Broomhead & Saul in partnership with Solicitors Title LLP, continue to lead the field in private client services.

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