Close this search box.

Remote Witnessing: Zooming Toward Future Will Signings

Print Article

Covid-19 brought “remote” to lots of our lives — work, school, doctor visits, happy hour. One activity that remains in-person only: witnessing Wills. At least in most of the United States. Across the pond, though, remote witnessing may be catching on.

At the end of September, England and Wales will allow Wills to be witnessed by “videoconferencing or other visual transmission,” albeit temporarily. The amendment to the Wills Act of 1837 (the origin of most U.S. estate planning laws) is set to take effect September 28 and will be retroactive to January 31, when the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in the United Kingdom. The change expires January 31, 2022, but Parliament can end it sooner or extend.

What’s Remote Witnessing?

Under the UK’s current Wills Act 1837 (and almost all U.S. states), Will signings require the physical presence of two witnesses along with the testator. Under the amendment, witnesses must still be “in the presence” of the testator, but the presence can be virtual, which means they can connect by Zoom or Skype or Facetime, etc.

The move is a direct response to the social distancing recommended to reduce Covid-19 risk. Many people are voluntarily reducing contact with others, and many care facilities prohibit contact or impose mandatory quarantines. Signing Wills and other documents has become more difficult. (See Fleming & Curti’s signing strategy.)

Here in the U.S., states have taken measures to ease signing requirements. But because these things are governed by state laws, it’s a crazy quilt of different requirements. Most common (Arizona included): allowing remote notarization of signatures, which doesn’t help much for Wills.

The UK’s effort is elegant by comparison. Note, though, that the process is not the same as “digital Wills,” which are entirely virtual and allowed in several U.S. states (Arizona included). Under the Wills Act amendment, Wills must be in writing and those signing must put pen to paper – all on the same original document.

Government Provides Pointers

Suggested guidelines include:

  1. Ensure sound and video are sufficient for all parties to see and hear what is happening.
  2. The action must occur in real time. Watching a video of the testator signing won’t count.
  3. The testator should hold pages up to the camera so the witnesses can see it’s a Will.
  4. The act of signing must be visible; a view of head and shoulders of the testator will not do.
  5. The meeting should be recorded and stored as evidence of due execution.
  6. Witnesses should ideally sign within 24 hours of the testator’s signature.
  7. The document should indicate that virtual witnessing has occurred and whether a recording is available.

One obvious complication is the need to shuttle the signed document from the testator to at least one other location for witnessing. The testator or witnesses could die before signatures can be obtained. A witness could fall ill or become incapacitated and unable to sign before receiving the signed Will. The document could be damaged, destroyed, lost, or altered in transit.

Fundamental Risk

In addition, the primary goal of the witness requirement would be significantly undermined. Witnessing guards against fraud and undue influence. On Zoom, it’s impossible to tell whether there’s a bullying family member off camera asserting influence. It’s also more difficult to determine whether the testator is of sound mind. These downsides mean these Wills will be easier to challenge.  As one anonymous commenter put it: “The fraudsters will love this innovation. I foresee much litigation in years to come.”

As a result, remote witnessing is likely to be exceedingly rare. After all, it’s still less complicated, more efficient, and more defensible to seat the testator and witnesses in a room where they can remain six feet apart and see one another during the process. Still, if remote witnessing becomes accepted in the UK, it could migrate. Having the option would be a plus in those rare times when the tried and true signing ceremony carries considerable risk.

Stay up to date

Subscribe to our Newsletter to get our takes on some of the situations families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities find themselves in. These posts help guide you in the decision making process and point out helpful tips and nuances to take advantage of. Enter your email below to have our entries sent directly to your inbox!

Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.