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Debate opens up over Will reforms

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Plans to update Britain’s “outdated” Will writing laws were outlined last week, but some legal professionals are concerned that the proposals could lead to more documents being challenged.

Last week the Law Commission set out plans to overhaul current legislation, which it argued was rooted in the Victorian era.

Among its headline proposals include making provision for electronic Wills and allowing courts to accept either a text message or email as a valid Will in exceptional circumstances.

It has also been suggested that the benchmark for determining if somebody is in the right state of mind to make a Will should be informed by the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

Law Commissioner Nick Hopkins said: “Making a Will and passing on your possessions after you’ve died should be straightforward. But the law is unclear, outdated and could even be putting people off altogether.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. And conditions which affect decision-making – like dementia – aren’t properly accounted for in the law.”

But the proposals have not been universally welcomed, with Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) concerned that the reforms could open the door for more Wills being overturned for spurious reasons.

Claire Davis, SFE’s director, said: “Wills are extremely powerful documents and it is important people understand the potential risks we are exposing ourselves and our loved ones to without seeking professional legal advice.

“If implemented, we foresee these proposals resulting in an increase in challenges from disgruntled or dissatisfied relatives, which will only serve to increase court action and all its attendant costs.”

The Law Society, for its part, suggested some of the proposed changes showed “promise” and would be well-received, while acknowledging that making greater allowances for electronic Wills must be accompanied by appropriate safeguards to prevent fraud.