I checked the website of the Law Commission recently to see whether there was any news on when we could expect their recommendations following last year’s consultation process on the law of wills. It does not seem imminent. We know, however, that changes are on the way. Probate applications can now be made online and, inevitably, there will be changes in the law enabling wills to be made in accordance with the requirements of the digital world in which we now live.
Obviously, there is a lot to be said for the current system. The formalities are clear and have been established for over 180 years. The maker of the will needs to sign it in the presence of two witnesses who also sign the will – it is essential that all three are present together at the same time and place. The challenge of any replacement is that of being able to emulate or even improve the certainty and security which the current system provides. There are various possible solutions such as pin numbers, passwords, biometrics and digital signatures, but the issues surrounding all of them are complex. What will need to happen is serious discussion between the government and the main digital corporations. If too liberal an approach is adopted there will be serious risks. Indeed the Law Commission itself noted that “a person who is seriously ill in the hospital may have more immediate access to a tablet or smartphone than to a pen and papers, and may be more able to speak than to write. On the other hand, the potential recognition of electronic documents could produce a treasure trove for dissatisfied relatives. They may be tempted to sift through a huge number of texts, emails and other records in order to find one that could be put forward as a will on the basis of a dispensing power. In that way, the large number of electronic documents that we store on our phones, tablets and computers may open up a variety of avenues by which probate could become both expensive and contentious.”
Meanwhile, the existing rules prevail. If you have not made a will, or you think it is out of date, you may want to take advantage of our free will review the offer. Please complete an online enquiry form if you are interested.