Law Commission Will review must protect elderly and vulnerable

The Law Commission is right to say that the current system for drafting and executing Wills is outdated. It is also right in principle to embrace new technologies to enable making Wills easier. In 2017, 40% of the UK population should not die intestate i.e. without a Will. The opportunities that digital technology afford Will writing should be embraced. But not at the expense of the strengths of the current drafting, witnessing and executing procedures.

The present laws regulating Wills date back to 1839. Wills must be written and signed by the testator, and then witnessed by two other people. The Will is then valid. This provides built-in safeguards to protect the elderly and vulnerable, while others say it is old fashioned.

Any new proposals have to be robust

Digital technology means it is now conceivable that a seriously ill person, on their deathbed, could turn to a phone or tablet to record their final wishes. That would certainly be easier than a pen and paper and therein lies the potential danger. Sadly stories proliferate of unscrupulous family members seeking to take advantage of frail family members. Experts express concerns about pressure being exerted in the final moments to make a last minute change of heart regarding legacies. What could then follow is disgruntled relatives, scouring other digital sources for evidence to contradict the supposed “final” wishes. All so unedifying.

As with all technological progress, what’s needed is a protection of the existing safeguards and strengths, while embracing the opportunities that are there. Careful consideration is needed of how best to take advantage of them.

The Law Commission consultation runs until 10 November 2017.

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