Legal News | 29.07.21
Wills in the 21st Century – Part I
If you imagine a Will as handwritten in perfect cursive on vellum, using traditional English language and to one day be read aloud, in full, by a lawyer to your grieving family, you would be a little out of date in your thinking. That said, Wills are notorious for being traditional, with the governing Wills Act dating from 1837 and calls for Wills to be brought into the 21st century often appearing in the press (or, increasingly, news apps).
As yet, calls to modernise Wills have not gained any traction, and so you would be well advised to avoid typing out your own DIY Will on your computer (or app, or mobile phone) and leaving it saved in your documents, unsigned; such a Will would not be legally binding.
Is this traditionalism a bad thing? As a firm, we are very keen to keep up with the latest technology (ask us about DocSafe if you’d like to receive documents via the cloud) but read on to find out why we think the law surrounding Wills is still appropriate in the digital age…
• When signing a Will, you are required to have two witnesses and in response to the pandemic, the government has temporarily permitted video witnessing until 31 January 2022. But should this just be temporary? And is it a jump too far to remove the need for witnessing altogether?
Consider, who can verify that a Will is indeed yours? What if someone else wrote a Will for you, leaving all your assets to them, and signed off pretending to be you? Witnesses confirm that the Will has indeed been signed by the testator and, in some cases, offer a valuable safeguard against undue influence (in circumstances where a relative may quite literally wish to force the testator’s hand…). Whether video witnessing provides the same level of protection has been the subject of much debate.
• Another rule is you must physically sign or mark your Will. Perhaps an inconvenience (especially when e:signatures have become so common), but when used for a document that disposes of all of your assets and ensures your loved ones receive what you want them to receive? A physical signature seems a small price to pay.
• Finally, your witnesses cannot benefit under your Will. A Will, gifting all of your assets to Joe Bloggs, witnessed by Joe Bloggs and leaving out all of your relatives would at best raise eyebrows and at worst, create disputes. Using witnesses who are not beneficiaries under a Will places some distance between the testator’s choice and the lucky Joe Bloggs (although additional measures should be put in place if you do intend to leave out those who might expect to receive something from your estate – do ask us for guidance on this).
At Wansbroughs, not only can we help you follow the formalities to make a valid Will, we can also provide additional assistance on the structure of your Will.
If you’d like to make a valid Will, please contact the Private Client team by calling 01380 733300 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t send us a fax though – it is 2021 after all.