Well, the possibility of making a Will electronically is one of the things that the Law Commission has suggested in the consultation that it has launched today. They say that the laws surrounding Wills need an overhaul because they’re out of step with the modern world. Given that some of the laws they’re talking about were passed in the same year that Queen Victoria assumed the throne - almost two centuries ago - it’s fair to say the Commission might have a point.
A lot of what the Law Commission is proposing is designed to update the laws surrounding Wills so that they reflect people’s lives today. They way that we live is changing; for example, in the last few decades the number of couples who live together without getting married has soared, not to mention an increase in the number of ‘blended’ and alternatively constituted families. There’s a common misconception that a “common-law” spouse will inherit on their partner’s death, but the reality is that if their partner dies without naming them in their Will then they are aren’t automatically entitled to anything.
There’s also the increasing number of people living with Dementia; the law that governs whether someone living with Dementia can make a Will was made in 1870, and medical knowledge has certainly moved on since then. As well as changes like this, so many of us conduct our affairs online and by email these days and so there’s a concern that the strict formalities that have to be followed in making a Will might be putting people off doing it at all. All this adds up one question: are our wills laws still fit for purpose?
One of the counter-arguments to a relaxation of the rules is that there must be safeguards in place that protect vulnerable people from abuse or coercion and to prevent fraud. In that respect, it’s perhaps right that the rules around making Wills are strict, and so it will be interesting to see what the outcome of the consultation is.
The problem that underlies all this is that the Law Commission estimates that 40% of adults die without a Will. If you don’t leave a valid Will then the law steps in to dictate who will inherit your estate, sometimes with surprising or unwelcome results. In some cases it’s obvious what the deceased person would have wanted, but without a valid Will made in accordance with strict legal formalities, there’s nothing anyone can do to put their wishes into effect. Everyone’s heard a story about someone inheriting from a long-lost aunt – but would that aunt rather have left her assets to her close friends, the neighbours who looked in on her every day or even her favourite charity rather than a relative she’d never met?
We help a lot of families with the difficulties that can arise when someone dies without a Will or even with a Will that’s out of date. One of the most important things that you can do to ensure that the assets you’ve worked hard for during your life end up where you want them to is to make a Will (with proper legal advice of course!). It’s then equally important that you keep the Will up to date – it’s a good idea to review it at least every three to five years and as and when your family circumstances change in the meantime. That way, you know that you’ve done everything you can to make sure that you have the final say over who inherits upon your death.
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