The formal requirements for the validity of execution of a will have been in existence for 180 years. Practitioners have long since considered that the practices and procedures are outdated and have not adapted with the modern world in which we now live, particularly as regards the question of execution of electronic wills. As a result, they have been calling for the Law Commission to conduct a reform of the procedures. On 5th October 2023, the Law Commission finally launched a consultation paper on electronic wills. The paper runs until 8th December 2023 and seeks views on possible reforms to enable electronic wills.
In a world driven by technology, the legal landscape is continually changing to accommodate digital advances, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic which increased the use of technology in everyday life.
The Law Commissioner has recognised the need to adapt to the digital age. The move to online wills will potentially pave the way for a more accessible and streamlined approach to estate planning, simplifying the process of estate planning and making it more convenient for people.
The Law Commissioner will focus on the following:
How online wills can be executed in order to comply with the formal requirements of section 9 of the Wills Act 1837 and whether the law should be reformed to provide for electronic wills to be lawful and if so, what the legal requirements would need to be in order to give effect to them.
Consider digital signatures and electronic storage and how wills can be stored electronically with no paper version whilst ensuring that they remain as secure as paper wills.
Capacity requirements for creating electronic wills to deter potential exploitation of vulnerable people or those with diminished mental capacity.
Once the consultation period ends, the views of all who replied to the paper will be analysed and a report will be prepared by the Law Commission with their recommendations highlighting amendments to the process of execution of wills. Even then, any recommended amendments will require the Government to prepare a bill for consideration by Parliament. It may also be the case that the Government will choose not to implement the recommended changes now or at all. In addition, even if steps are taken to process the recommended amendments, a change in Government may result in cancellation or postponement of the same.
The next steps
Whilst the publication of the Law Commission’s paper is welcomed by practitioners it may be some time before there is any formal amendment to the way in which wills are executed in England and Wales or there may not be any formal amendment at all. An update will be provided once the consultation period ends, but in the meantime if you need assistance in making a will, please contact our wills trust and probate team today on [email protected] or 0118 952 7206.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.