2020 has brought several changes to will writing, some of which we were expecting, and others that we were not that have come as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic. As we are nearing the end of 2020, we thought that we would look back at the changes in will writing over the course of the year.
Remote Witnessing of Wills
The outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic has dominated the news this year, and it was no different in will writing. Recommendations of social distancing and working from home lead to many will writers adapting how they take instructions and sign wills. However, for the majority of the year the physical presence of witnesses has been required, which has lead to a number of creative ways that wills have been witnessed. The BBC reported that wills were being signed on car bonnets during lockdown and many will writers were relying on previous case law to witness through windows or through open doors.
This eventually lead to one of the largest changes to will writing in a decade, even if it is only temporary. On 25 July 2020, the government announced that the law would be changed to allow wills to be witnessed remotely via videolink. This lead to the Wills Act 1837 (Electronic Communications) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Order 2020 coming into force on 28th September. The measures have been backdated to 31 January 2020 and will remain in force until 31 January 2020, although this may be shortened or extended if deemed necessary.
This is however only advised as a last resort where physical witnessing of the will is not possible. We have produced our own guidance on the changes here. The official government guidance on the changes can be found here. STEP also have some useful guidance that can be found here.
The start of the year saw a change to the law of civil partnerships. The Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 came into effect on the 31 December 2019, which allowed opposite sex couples to enter into civil partnerships. Further information on this can be found here.
The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019 came into effect in England on 20 May 2020 and changed the organ donation rules in England from an opt-in system to an opt-out system. Under the old rules, a person was not deemed as wanting to donate their organs unless they joined the NHS organ donor register. Under the new rules however, a person is instead presumed to be an organ donor unless they have opted out during their lifetime. There are however safeguards that allow loved ones to make known any unregistered objections to organ donations that the deceased may have had.
Further information on the old rules and the new rules can be found here.
Online Submission of Probate Applications
From 2 November 2020, probate applications submitted by professionals must be made online for the majority of cases rather than using paper forms. For more complex cases, paper forms may still be allowed however.