Last Updated on 28.7.21 by Michael Smoult
Inheritance disputes could rocket as more and more people go digital to make a will.
As the Law Commission considers relaxing rules over how to make a will – including potential for declaring wishes by text or WhatsApp – legal experts are predicting that this could lead to more challenges over the contents and nature of bequests.
Only this week TV explorer Benedict Allen, rescued from a remote jungle, revealed he had filmed a ‘video will’ for his family as he feared malaria would kill him. Yet such a will would not be legally valid.
The problem with making a will by text, video or any other digital format is that doesn’t fulfil the requirement of being in writing, signed and witnessed and therefore will not be valid. It could also be difficult to show that person sending the text or making the video understood fully the implications of it and had the capacity to make the decision.
Around 59 per cent of UK adults have not written a will, with nearly a fifth (16 per cent) arguing they are not wealthy enough to need one
Law Commissioner Nick Hopkins recently said he felt that unclear and outdated law could be putting people off altogether. Even when it’s obvious what someone wanted, if they haven’t followed the strict rules, courts can’t act on it.
However, Christine Thornley points out that finding easier ways to make a will, say by text or voicemail, might not be enough to make clear someone’s wishes or the directions of their intentions.
I understand the need to make the law accessible but wills can be complex documents and if they aren’t drafted and executed properly then they can be challenged far more easily. Also if people do not take appropriate advice they may find that their will doesn’t actually do what they think. The issue with digital wills or any kind of home will writing could prevent appropriate checks to test mental capacity and protect against undue influence.`
What’s more, will need updating if your situation changes through marriage, divorce, having children or grandchildren or buying or selling property. You need to have a system in place which allows you to access those changes.
It`s not uncommon for disgruntled relatives to challenge the content of a will.
Indeed, the number of inheritance disputes reaching the High Court each year has soared to a record high due to the intricacies of modern family life and rising property prices. Some 116 cases were brought in the High Court under the Inheritance Act in 2016 compared with 15 in 2005 – an eight-fold increase in the annual figure.
This can only rise, as a result of the increased usage of online and digital wills. Beginning the process online could be useful for the younger generation, the danger of having a will drafted over the phone and then posted to you could expose you to countless problems which could lead to costly legal challenges.
The organisation Remember a Charity recently expressed concerns that bequest to charities, maybe overturned if relaxing the rules increased the scope for legacy disputes.
There can already be problems for those who try and take a less official approach to will writing – either by using a will writing company or a DIY will.
Unlike solicitors, will writing companies don’t need to have any training and they don’t all have insurance. Also, the industry isn’t regulated which it’s why it is important to use a will writer that’s a member of a recognised trade body, such as Institute of Professional Will Writers or Society of Will Writers. If you use a will writer that’s not a member and there’s a mistake in the will, there’s no comeback.
We have seen many clients who have been to events put on by Will Writers and Wealth Management companies who have given them a wonderful free lunch and told them that solicitors don’t specialise in Will writing or succession planning. These clients have found that they have been pushed into agreeing to prepare Wills and trusts which they don’t understand and aren’t appropriate for their circumstances.
Solicitors are able to give tailored and independent advice and prepare documents suitable for that particular client instead of fitting that client’s circumstances into a particular pre-prepared document
The purpose of making a Will is to ensure that you decide who deals with your estate and who benefits. Disputes can’t always be avoided but by taking proper advice and care when you make your Will you can minimise the risk.
If you work through the process with an experienced, qualified solicitor, the process of making a will can be relatively quick and simple. If you are looking to make a Will, or have queries regarding the validity of your will, please get in touch. Call our team today on 0161 930 5151 or e-mail email@example.com