Ability to witness wills via video link is a ‘major step forward for legacy giving’

27 Jul 2020 News

The government's decision to allow wills to be witnessed via video link could help to modernise will-making and increase legacy giving, a legacy consortium has said.

By law, wills currently must be signed “in presence of” two people who are not among the beneficiaries. However, people self-isolating during the pandemic have in some cases turned to video instead.

The government announced on Saturday that wills witnessed this way will be made legal.

The change in law will be introduced in September but backdated to 31 January 2020, when the first coronavirus case was recorded in the UK. It will remain in place at least until 31 January 2022, the government has said.

Small increase in will-making ‘could generate millions’ for charities

Rob Cope, director of Remember A Charity, said that while temporary, the change is welcome, and could result in a significant increase in legacy giving to charities.

He said: “Modernisation of UK will-making is long overdue and, although the changes announced today are temporary measures, this could be a major step forward for legacy giving, making it easier for people to set out their final wishes.

“Ultimately, the more people that write a will, the greater the potential for including a charitable donation. Even a small increase in the proportion of people leaving a gift in their will could generate millions for good causes each year.”

Using video for will-witnessing should remain “a last resort”, the government warned. Cope added that it “needs to be treated cautiously” and there must be “sufficient safeguards in place to protect the public, particularly those who may be vulnerable”. 

Will-writing on the rise during lockdown

Demand for will-writing has been up during lockdown. Remember A Charity said traffic to the “making a will” section of its website has doubled.

Farewill, one of the biggest will-writing providers in the UK, said that legacy giving has increased massively, going from an average of £4m pledged every month in normal circumstances, to about £35m in April and £10m in May and June.

Cope said: “The pandemic has helped people see the importance of getting their affairs in order and encouraged us all to reflect on those things we truly care about. This includes the charities that so many of us rely upon and the causes we are passionate about in our lifetimes.”

Despite the increase in charity bequests, legacy income for charities is still likely to decrease sharply in 2020, with legacy consortium Legacy Foresight forecasting a drop of between 4% and 23%. This has been caused by administrative delays during lockdown and by the impact of the economic crisis.

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