Two immediate modification orders temporarily change Wills Act 2007 and Oaths and Declarations Act 1957
The Ministry of Justice has provided guidance on temporary changes implemented to signing and witnessing wills, as well as completing oaths, declarations, or affirmations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The changes were implemented by two immediate modification orders made under the Epidemic Preparedness Notice. The changes include allowing the signing and witnessing of will using audio-visual participation via technologies like Zoom, Skype, and Facetime.
The amendment to section 11 of Wills Act 2007 allows:
- A person who is signing on the will-maker’s behalf (pursuant to section 11(3)(b)), to sign in front of the will-maker by audio-visual link from another place.
- Witnesses to witness the will-maker sign a copy of the document by audio-visual link.
- Witnesses to sign a copy of the document in front of the will-maker by audio-visual link.
The change requires all people signing a copy of the will to clearly state on the copy that it is signed via audio-visual link because of the epidemic notice that is in force. It also requires photographs or scans of the signed copies to be sent as soon as practical to a person who has been chosen to hold the document and all photographs or scans of signed copies of the will.
A lawyer or trust company involved in preparing and witnessing a will can hold the document and all photographs or scans of signed copies of the will, the ministry said.
The temporary modifications to the Oaths and Declarations Act 1957 clarify that it is not required for a person taking oaths, affirmations, or declarations to be physically present with the person making those oaths, affirmations, or declarations.
The person making the oath, affirmation, or declaration also does not need to physically sign the document. Those can be administered using audio-visual links, or audio links, the modification order said.
Immediate modification orders are made under the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006 in the form of Orders of Council and are considered and agreed to by the Cabinet. The orders can only be used when a statutory requirement or restriction is impossible or impracticable to comply with during an epidemic. The order applies only while an epidemic notice is in force in the country.