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Is This The Age of Digital Wills?

Can you imagine writing your will, iPhone in hand, from the comfort of your own home? Recording your last wishes through Siri and emailing them to your solicitor? New legislation could make this a reality by overruling ‘outdated’ laws and bringing one of your most important legal documents into the modern age…

Writing a will is a process that most of us will experience one day. Divvying up our possessions and assets into piles for the people that we consider family. Deciding who will execute our most important requests.

It’s our last piece of communication in the world, and a crucial chore to complete as we grow older.

This summer the Law Commission branded the current legislation surrounding wills as outdated and has proposed a reform. The new system would succeed the standing law which has governed since 1837, by allowing voicemail and text messages to be used in the place of a will – even overruling a current written document.

Currently, getting your will into order can be a lengthy affair, complete with paying for a solicitor to draft the document, choosing an executor and finding two impartial witnesses to be present for your signature. Though there’s no legal requirement to hire a solicitor, it’s a route many take to avoid mistakes in the document, which could cause your will to be contested and voided.

In recent years, as technology has advanced, so has the popularity of more unconventional routes - it’s not uncommon to see will writing companies, banks, or corporations such as ‘Legalzoom,’ who advertise an iPhone App, offering the same service at a reduced time and cost.

These options have provided a choice on who writes your will, but this is the first-time legislation would be introduced that affects how. The reform would alter the will system permanently, but would it be for better or worse?

We asked our Head of Legal Services, Mark Hopper, to comment. He said that these changes could have significant consequences for wills in the future.

“There are already enough Wills being challenged with the current process– if this becomes a reality for all wills then there would be big problems with contested wills, fraud and vulnerable people being taken advantage of. This would be the biggest issue with a digital version.”

Currently, a large emphasis in a solicitor’s will writing process is on safeguarding the client, making certain they’re 100 percent happy with their choices and they’re not being influenced in any way by an outside party.

Without a solicitor present, it’s not difficult to see how someone could be tempted to continuously change their will, be pressured to update it on their phone, or become a victim of fraud, with no one the wiser.

“If you can write your will through your phone, how many times might you end up doing this? How would anyone know that you haven’t been pressured to write it or indeed that you wrote it at all?”

The loose guidelines proposed could potentially expose vulnerable people and cause several issues. So what would cause someone to be tempted to write a digital will instead of contacting a professional? The biggest indications are cost, and efficiency.

Hiring a solicitor can be an expensive way to write a will, but Mark argues that it can be more durable and beneficial in the long run. Though that’s not to say it wouldn’t be appealing to some, particularly the younger generation who would benefit from a more minimalist service.

“The younger generation generally don’t create wills. If the system encouraged that then it would be a step in the right direction.

“Overall, the technology is there to enable a digital version, but there are a lot of issues that need addressing before it becomes a viable option.”

Will writing is an important part of our work at Chesterton House and we will continue to provide our clients with a written service, whilst looking at innovative ways to improve the system, online and on paper. For example, we are currently experimenting with capturing clients will instructions electronically to save time, money and make the process easier for clients to understand.

We await the outcome of the Law Commissions review, but when and if the reform comes into action, will you want to go digital?

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