Instead of having your will drawn up by a solicitor, we consider whether the law should recognise wills in other formats. We look at:
- Why many Britons don’t write a will
- The advantages of accepting less orthodox wills
- The disadvantages of relaxing the rules for writing wills
- When writing a will is necessary
- The expense of drawing up a will
Modernising how to write a will
Isn’t it time that making a will was brought into the 21st century? The Law Commission has been asking the very same thing. After asking for contributions, their Wills Consultation closed on 10th November 2017 and they’re now preparing a report about whether the rules for writing a will should be reformed.
Possible suggestions include the validity of electronic wills and even the possibility of courts accepting voice and text messages for the deceased to let their last wishes be known. It might sound far-fetched but a trial in Australia made legal history in 2017 when an unsent text message was accepted by a court as a dead man’s final wishes about his estate.
In this article we look at the arguments for and against relaxing the somewhat archaic rules about the writing of a will. We also explain why writing a will is imperative and cheaper alternatives.
Why don’t Britons write a will?
Research carried out by unbiased.co.uk found that 1 in 2 adults in the UK have prepared no document to formalise their wishes for after their death. When asked why, the most common answers were:
- I haven’t got round to it
- I haven’t thought about it
- It’s too expensive
Advantages of accepting less orthodox wills
One of the reasons given for not writing a will is that the present way of writing one is seen as outdated and off-putting. Therefore, the main advantage of accepting less formalised documents is that it would be much more convenient and wouldn’t necessarily need legal advice. This in turn would make it much cheaper for the ordinary person.
Disadvantages of relaxing the laws for writing wills
A will is a legal document with important financial implications and it requires serious thought. The main drawback of relaxing the rules about drawing up a will is that the deceased person’s wishes may not be clear. Without legal advice, it’s quite possible that the testator might overlook or be unaware of certain crucial considerations. For example, if you have a mortgage with a partner to whom you aren’t married, do you know the ramifications of, and differences between, joint tenancy and tenancy in common if one of you dies? In cases like these, the will might not cover all the issues.
This ambiguity about the deceased person’s wishes might also lead to more legal disputes rather then fewer. If some relatives challenge a will through the courts, a lot of money will be spent unnecessarily defending or challenging what the testator actually wanted. This financial aspect is often accompanied by great emotional distress. After a bereavement, people just want to mourn in private. Grieving relatives certainly don’t want a lengthy and upsetting legal battle.
At the moment, for wills to be valid, they have to be signed by objective witnesses who aren’t beneficiaries. There’s also the issue that the person making the will hasn’t been unduly influenced and checks about their mental capacity. How would this be achieved through electronic wills?
Finally, a text message could be written by anyone. How could the validity of the will in this form be proven beyond all reasonable doubt? Couldn’t someone else write a will like that claiming to be the deceased person?
When writing a will is necessary
Although the Law Commission is considering lowering the age limit to 16, as the law stands everyone over the age of 18 should write a will. Many people think of wills as ways of dividing up assets but there are other aspects of drawing up a will. For example, you might have possessions of sentimental value which you’d like to pass on to relatives and friends as mementos. Also, there’s the question of what kind of funeral you’d like to have.
Once you have drawn up a will, you shouldn’t just put it in a drawer and forget about it. It’s important that you update the will when your circumstances change. A marriage, having children and a divorce are all times when you should revise your will. This document will allow you to make provision for your loved ones and also arrange guardianship for your kids if they’re under 18.
The expense of drawing up a will
With a will costing £100-£200 depending on which part of the UK you live, don’t let the expense put you off. There are cheaper alternatives.
Many charities offer a will-making service with the unspoken expectation that they’ll receive a bequest.
Many charities offer a will-making service with the unspoken expectation that they’ll receive a bequest (though it isn’t obligatory). Also, there are will-making services online, which allow you to create a will in electronic format. This is then checked by a solicitor for a fee.
Very few people like thinking about death – especially when it’s their own. However, drawing up a will and keeping it regularly updated can make sure that your wishes are respected after your death. Dying intestate can create problems and difficulties for your family when they’re already dealing with a loss. If you’ve worked all your life to look after them and protect them, why not make sure this care continues after your death too?