The Law Commission has launched a new public consultation, seeking views on two issues related to will and probate law: electronic wills and financial abuse via “predatory” marriages.
The Law Commission is an independent statutory body tasked by the government with reviewing legislation and making recommendations for change. This review process normally includes seeking views and feedback from interested parties.
The Commission explains that advances in technology have made the secure storage of electronic wills feasible, with no need for an additional paper copy. The UK first allowed wills to be witnessed over the internet during the Covid-19 pandemic using electronic signature software, and more recently, a number of countries have made electronic wills a legally valid option for families. The Law Commission is seeking views on whether the UK should now take the same step via a new Wills Act, and also asking which, if any, special requirements might be needed to ensure the security of electronic wills if they were legalised.
The second issue under consideration by the Law Commission is the financial abuse of individuals with a diminished capacity to make decisions about their own welfare, such as the elderly or people with learning difficulties of various kinds. Because the formation of a new marriage or civil partnership automatically revokes any existing wills, a new spouse may inherit a person’s entire estate if no replacement will is made. This can encourage exploitative individuals to coerce the vulnerable into financially motivated marriages. The Law Commission is now considering changing the law to leave existing wills in place if an individual enters a new marriage or civil partnership.
The new consultation is a part of a larger project by the Law Commission to modernise English wills and probate legislation, much of which dates back to the 19th Century.
Nicholas Hopkins is Commissioner for Property, Family and Trust Law. He explained:
“In light of recent technological and societal developments, we are seeking views on electronic wills and the effects of predatory marriage on wills. We welcome a wide range of responses to our consultation paper.”
“Our review of wills aims to ensure that the law is modern and as straightforward as possible, protecting the most vulnerable and giving greater effect to everyone’s last wishes.”
Interested parties can submit can submit their views here. The deadline for responses to the consultation is 8 December 2023.