Proposals to introduce electronic wills need ‘more scrutiny’, says The Law Society

The Law Society of England and Wales has recognised that electronic wills could become a reality, however, concerns have also been raised about the risk of fraud increasing.

This comes as the Law Society responds to the Law Commission’s consultation on wills reform. The Commission is re-consulting on the issue of electronic wills due to increasing recognition of the use of digital documents and signatures in other contexts, as well as developments in technology.

In forming its response, the Law Society surveyed 895 solicitors who specialise in wills and probate. Half (50%) of respondents were likely to support the use of technology in the will writing process. However, solicitors also expressed concern about electronic wills increasing the risk of fraud and undue influence. Law Society president Nick Emmerson said:

“We support provision to enable electronic wills to be made valid under the law. While we are not opposed to the use of technology to facilitate will-making, we recognise concerns around the risk of fraud and undue influence.

It is important that the requirements for an electronic will provide the right level of protection. It is also essential to maintain a paper process for will-making. This will ensure that anyone who struggles to make a will electronically is not disadvantaged.

We hope that if electronic wills are introduced, more people will be encouraged to write wills. However, it is vital that there is an opportunity for detailed examination of what is being proposed.”

Predatory marriage

As part of its consultation, the Commission is also considering whether the law should be changed to stop marriage from automatically revoking a will. The Law Society’s survey found that one in five (21%) solicitors reported having had a client they suspected was in a predatory marriage. Predatory marriage occurs when a person marries someone as a form of financial abuse.

Around two in five (42%) solicitors agreed that the law should be changed to stop marriage from automatically revoking a will. However, the same number of respondents (42%) disagreed, showing that more consideration is needed. Emmerson said:

“It is alarming that a fifth of solicitors have expressed concern about clients being subject to financial abuse through predatory marriage.

Further action is required to address predatory marriage and prevent exploitation of vulnerable people through the marriage and wills process. Clearly, there is no consensus as to whether changing the law as proposed is the right way forward and more debate of the pros and cons is needed.

The safeguarding of those who are vulnerable to predatory marriage and financial abuse must be given paramount consideration. We recommend further training for registrars to look for signs of insufficient mental capacity to marry.”

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