An article from The Telegraph details plans to revolutionise the ‘outdated’ system for having a Will made and suggests allowing new ways to provide Will instructions for your death such as notes, voicemail’s, emails and texts.
The current system
A valid Will is signed on all pages by the testator (the person who’s Will it is) before an adult independent witness who signs on the last page only. Changes to a Will can be made by either doing a new will or something called a codicil. This is generally a short document signed by the testator which allows for amendments to the Will. Letters of wishes can also be used to convey your wishes or explain why you have instructed your Will in a certain way. Although this sounds simple enough they all still typically require visits to a solicitors office, time and money spend on drafting and then the necessity of signing with a witness.
Benefits of the proposal to simplify the system
Outdated? Perhaps. Inconvenient? People don’t like taking time out of their busy lives to visit a solicitor and even more so, don’t like the cost involved. It seems logical that we should be trying to make things easier. Using voicemails, emails and texts may seem more convenient and may make life easier for those changing their Will. As humans, we don’t tend to like to think about our own mortality and so it is often incredibly difficult to even get someone into the right mind frame where they are ready to instruct a Will. Making things as simple and easy as possible is clearly important. However, there are concerns…
Is there likely to be a greater amount of uncertainty if notes, voicemail messages, emails and texts are admissible as testamentary writings? Of course, there is! An email will provide you with a written message from a specific person’s email account but we all know that emails are too easy to intercept and change. The main purpose of a Will is to give clear and appropriately worded instructions for what should happen to your Estate once you die. Solicitors work to ensure that there is no uncertainty about who is to inherit, and what they are to inherit and when. Solicitors know how to convey testamentary instructions effectively and know the pitfalls of uncertain or unclear instructions but most people do not. A text would not encourage careful consideration of language. Is shorthand or text language appropriate? Will emojis be considered as valid instructions?
The additional benefit of having Solicitors involved in the constructing of Wills or even minor changes is that they can assess the capacity of the testator. Informal arrangements would allow greater opportunities for advantage to be taken of vulnerable people who may not be entirely sure of what they are doing. A solicitor is a necessary safeguard to ensure that testamentary instructions are made of a person’s own free will and because they themselves have chosen to make those instructions; not because they have been coerced into doing so!
Ultimately, the proposed changes are a nice idea. There is a clear desire to move away from the perceived old fashioned, time intensive and Solicitor dominated system. However, the potential problems arising in our view outweigh the benefits. The death of a loved one is a distressing enough time without family members arguing over whether the deceased’s last text message constituted a testamentary instruction.
If you require any further information on Wills, how to make one or to change your current one, please get in touch with our experienced team.