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“I hereby leave you my entire estate – in a text message”

We all know that sometimes Wills can cause ructions within families - but just imagine the potential minefield if you could leave your entire estate to someone in a text message or a voicemail.

A major overhaul of inheritance laws means that people may soon be able to make their Wills via electronic communications including voicemail, text and email.

Current law outdated and unclear

The Law Commission has branded the law around Wills, which dates back to 1839, as outdated in the digital age in which we live and condemned its rules as 'unclear'.

At the moment, for a Will to be legally valid, it must be voluntarily written by someone aged 18 or over, who is of sound mind, then signed in front of two witnesses who are also both over 18 and in the presence of the person making the Will.

But the Law Commission has recommended that the law be relaxed and gives the example of a car crash victim who dies without making a formal Will but who has made their intentions clear in another way, for example text or email.

The family could then apply to a court and the messages could be recognised as a valid Will if approved by a judge.

Family arguments

According to recent figures, 40 per cent of people die without making a Will, and although the Law Commission concedes that its proposal could lead to family arguments or worse, it still believes it is a change worth making.

In its consultation document, the Law Commission noted that the plans could provide "a treasure trove for dissatisfied relatives. They may be tempted to sift through a large number of texts, emails and other records in order to find one that could be put forward as a Will on the basis of a dispensing power."

But Law Commissioner, Nick Hopkins, said: "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.

"That's not right and we want an overhaul to bring the law into the modern world. Our provisional proposals will not only clarify things legally, but will also give greater effect to people's last wishes."

Other changes

The Law Commission's proposals also suggest changing the law about mental capacity to make it easier to determine whether someone with dementia is able to make a Will as well as lowering the age someone can make a Will from 18 to 16.

It has launched a consultation which runs until November 10 and can be accessed by going to the Law Commission website.

For advice on making or updating your Will, please contact our Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity Team.