Electronic Wills – Fantasy Or Reality?
Protecting our privacy in the digital age has never been more important. However, electronic wills may soon become a reality.
An estimated 40% of adults in the UK still don’t have wills. Nevertheless, most of us recognise that it’s something we should really do. One of the main reasons for not making a will is being short of time.
Many clients will make notes about what they’d like to do. Some may even do this electronically. However, under the Wills Act 1837, digital notes, instructions or messages left by you will not carry weight. Your assets will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy (if you die without making a will), or according to the terms of a valid will you have made previously.
As our lives have become increasingly entangled in the digital world, the idea of making an electronic will seems to make sense. Looking closely at out-of-date and ineffective legislation, the Law Commission launched a public consultation to look at reforming the ancient law on wills.
According to Law Commissioner Professor Hopkins, “making a will and passing on your possessions after you’ve died should be straight forward”. Indeed, the Commission has stated that the current law is not only confusing but also outdated.
New proposals include allowing social media posts, texts, emails and voicemail messages to be used in place of a written will.
Serious consideration will also be given to the introduction of a new mental capacity test. This would take account of modern medical understanding about conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease to ensure that wills are prepared by people with clear decision-making capabilities.
Further recommendations include reducing the age at which someone can prepare a will, from 18 to 16.
Will electronic wills work?
Without doubt, the Commission’s recommendations make electronic wills a real possibility. Encourgingly, many believe the simplified process will encourage many more (especially the young) to get their house in order.
The legal profession’s governing body, the Law Society, has been largely supportive. “The lack of a formal will should not restrict a court from respecting someone’s final wishes when those can be proven – with appropriate safeguards against fraud.”
However, we’ll be studying the results of the public consultation (which closed on 10 November) very closely.
There’s legitimate concern among solicitor colleagues over data security. Not least how best to establishing whether the correct person signed the will. Then there are issues surrounding undue influence being brought to bear, especially on the most vulnerable.
Sadly, as we become more reliant on technology, without stringent regulation, badly drawn-up wills will run the risk of your estate falling into the wrong hands.
In the meantime, if you’d like to discuss how best to make a will, please contact us. We’re here to help.
Please note that all views, comments or opinions expressed are for information only and do not constitute and should not be interpreted as being comprehensive or as giving legal advice. No one should seek to rely or act upon, or refrain from acting upon, the views, comments or opinions expressed herein without first obtaining specialist, professional or independent advice. While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, Curtis Parkinson cannot be held liable for any errors, omissions or inaccuracies.