By Legal Futures’ Associate VirtualSignature 
Coronavirus has put a number of everyday processes and laws under the microscope. The deadly virus has made people think about their mortality much more seriously; as a result we have had reports from a number of our colleagues in the legal sector that there has been a surge in people wanting to write and amend their last will and testament.
Coupled with this demand, is the fact that social distancing guidelines have made getting a document witnessed in person extremely difficult. Legal firms have had to become creative in finding ways to combat the issues faced. From employees being tasked with meeting clients in a driveway or garden, carefully placing the document for signature on a car bonnet or garden table, to solicitors taking video evidence of the process. E-signatures have helped to some degree, but to date have not offered a complete solution on their own.
Thankfully, the Law Commission has been in dialogue with the UK Government since 2017 regarding the updating of will legislation and they continue to investigate what changes should be made to modernise the current practice.
Finally, in September 2019, they confirmed that “Electronic signatures can be used to execute documents, including where there is a statutory requirement for a signature”. However, the idea of using digital methods to witness wills remains a complex issue, particularly in respect of protecting the vulnerable and it requires detailed review. It is therefore unlikely that changes will be made anytime soon, lockdown or not.
VirtualSignature has engaged with several law firms to develop a solution to this problem. While we wait for changes in the current law, to allow digital witnessing of wills, we believe our VirtualWitness technology can assist. In fact, some legal firms and local authorities are already using our technology for witnessing deeds.
VirtualSignature helps all parties stay safe and brings a new level of efficiency and security to signing and witnessing legal documents.
The will is drawn up and a witness is nominated to attest to the electronic signing of the document. The estate owner electronically signs the document and VirtualSignature verifies the true identity of the signatory to the witnesses. This is done by the signatory scanning their ID document which is checked and confirmed to be genuine, and taking a “selfie” which is compared to the ID document scan. Anti-spoofing and biometric facial recognition technology are used to compare the two images as a way of verifying that the person signing, is who they say they are. The witnesses receive a preview of the signatory’s signature and image but are not party to the document (unless expressly requested by the signatory).
The witnesses independently apply their own signatures, names, addresses and occupations to the document; the document is executed online and a certificate of attestation as to the validity of the signing and witnessing process is generated by VirtualSignature for all parties. All this can be carried out remotely, from a mobile phone, PC or tablet in a matter of minutes.
The UK Government has now approved the use of video technology to assist, and this is a welcome step forward. As a software provider we are ready with a solution for when the law catches up. We believe the process could further be improved for security and efficiency. Potentially, the easier it becomes to execute a will, the less daunting it will be for people to address the issue and make sure they make suitable arrangements for loved ones at the time of their passing.