The world of will-writing could be dragged into the 21st century if proposals by the Law Commission are adopted.
The commission says the current Victorian law is “outdated”, and believes the rules as they stand contribute to the fact that about 40% of adults who die do not leave wills.
Perhaps most importantly, it is proposing giving the courts the power to recognise wills in cases where the formality rules haven’t been followed but where the intentions have been made clear.
The consultation is also looking at the possible introduction of electronic wills, taking more account of conditions such as dementia, and allowing 16-year-olds to make wills.
Prof Nick Hopkins, of the Law Commission, 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 But the law is unclear, outdated and could even be putting people off altogether.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.
“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 help to give greater effect to people’s last wishes.”
James Antoniou, head of wills at the Co-op, welcomed the spirit of the proposals but was concerned that any changes would need to be “strict and clear”.
“Making the law more accessible is one of today’s biggest challenges facing the legal industry,” he said.
“However, at the moment, the laws about what makes a will legally valid are strict and clear. So any relaxation of these rules, by giving the courts power to recognise other types of communication, creates uncertainty which could lead to a greater number of legal disputes and ultimately with families suffering the associated legal costs.”