In recognition of restrictions put in place in response to COVID-19, the government has made a temporary law change that allows for Wills to be witnessed remotely. In order to be valid, all Wills must generally be signed by the will-maker in the presence of at least two independent witnesses; until now, that witnessing had to be done in person with all parties signing the same document in the presence of one another. The newly enacted Epidemic Preparedness (Wills Act 2007 – Signing and Witnessing of Wills) Immediate Modification Order 2020 effectively amends provisions of the Wills Act 2007 to temporarily allow a Will to be witnessed remotely. This means that we can now assist you to make a valid Will without any need for you to leave your ‘bubble’.
The Order allows Wills to be validly executed using audio-video conference such as by Skype, Zoom – and even Houseparty – for the duration of the Epidemic Notice. Once we have prepared your new or updated Will in accordance with your instructions, you are able to sign the Will in the virtual presence of your witnesses and your witnesses would also sign a true copy of the document in your virtual presence. You would then need to send a photograph or scan of all pages of the signed Will to us at once – with the original to be sent or delivered to our office as soon as practical so that we may store it in our Deeds Room for safekeeping. Any one of our team members would be able to act as independent witness to your Will. In this way we can ensure not only that your new Will reflects your wishes, but also that it is executed in accordance with the law and is a valid testamentary document.
These new provisions apply during Alert Levels 3 and 4, when it is impossible or impracticable to sign a Will in the physical presence of two independent witnesses, and will continue to apply during lower Alert Levels to ensure that vulnerable people such as the elderly are still able to make a Will without compromising their health and safety. The changes to the provisions set out in the Wills Act 2007 are temporary and will expire when the Epidemic Notice has been lifted. Rest assured that any Will that has been remotely witnessed during this time in accordance with the Order would remain valid into the future.
If you are over the age of 18 and do not have a Will, we strongly recommend that you make one. The same applies if you do have a Will but it no longer reflects your current wishes, or if your circumstances have now changed – for example you have purchased property, welcomed a new arrival to your family, or ended a relationship. Please note that if you have married since signing your last Will, it may no longer be valid.
We appreciate that for many this period has been a time of great uncertainty, and our thoughts go out to all those who have been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
As always, seeking professional legal advice is the best way to ensure that your Will reflects your wishes and meets the strict legal requirements. If you have been meaning to make or update your Will, please do not hesitate to phone the office on +64 3 434 5128 or get in touch with one of our friendly lawyers today. Thanks to the Order, now is as good a time as any for you and your loved ones to get this task checked off the ‘to do’ list.