Let people write their will on a computer, Law Commission says

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Jul 13, 2017
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Laws on wills dating from the Victorian era are still in effect

Nidlay Picture Library/Alamy

Victorian laws on wills need an overhaul so the documents can be written electronically and by people as young as 16, the Law Commission says today.

Existing laws are out of step with the modern electronic world and put people off writing wills, according to the law reform body. An estimated 40 per cent of adults die each year without making a will, which means there is no guarantee that their estates are distributed as they would have wished.

People are also ignorant about the law; for instance, if a person remarries that process revokes all previous wills and their estate goes to their new spouse and not any existing children. So even if someone had made specific provisions in their will to support children from a previous marriage these would be ignored and the new spouse would receive the bulk of the estate.

Laws also fail to protect the vulnerable by not allowing others to distribute their cherished possessions after they have died, according to the body that proposes legal reforms to the government for implementation in England and Wales.

The commission is consulting on reforms including lowering the age for making a will from 18 to 16 and a new mental capacity test which takes into account the modern understanding of conditions like dementia. The commission also wants changes to pave the way for the introduction of electronic wills.

Nick Hopkins, the Law Commissioner in charge of the project, said: “Making a will and passing on your possessions after you’ve died should be straightforward. But the law is unclear, outdated and could even be putting people off altogether. Even when it’s obvious what someone wanted, if they haven’t followed the strict rules, courts can’t act on it. And conditions which affect decision-making – like dementia – aren’t properly accounted for in the law. 

“That’s not right and we want an overhaul to bring the law into the modern world. Our provisional proposals will not only clarify things legally, but will also help to give greater effect to people’s last wishes.”

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