Any future change in the law, to allow people’s final wishes by text, email or voicemail to be recognised in place of a Will, needs to be applied carefully to minimise the risk of family disputes.
James Murray, Head of Dispute Resolution at Jones & Co Solicitors, believes the courts will need to be careful using a text or email to decide where someone’s property and assets should go, if they want to avoid family members and other would-be beneficiaries disputing that decision. The Law Society is suggesting that people who don’t have a formal Will could have their final wishes recognised if these can be clearly proven by text message, email or voicemail.
James said: “With 40% of people dying without making a Will, it’s clear that more needs to be done to ensure people’s property or other assets go to who they wish, but this must be done carefully. The Law Society has recently agreed that more should be done to respect the wishes of those who don’t make a Will but have expressed their wishes in other ways.
“A text, email or voicemail might qualify as a Will in the future and the Law Commission has also suggested that electronic documents, including sound or video recordings, could be included. They have said that this would not be standard practice and the judge would have to be convinced that this counts as evidence of the deceased’s testament. This careful decision making will be vital.”
After a lengthy dispute between relatives, a court in Australia recently ruled that a draft text composed by a man before he died constituted a legal will and this could determine the fate of his house and other assets. This highlights the kind of situation that can arise when a person does not leave a formal will.
James said: “Courts will need to determine whether Wills composed on computers or phones were written by the deceased, and whether they were intended to be final or were just drafts. There is a risk that a person writes something one day and doesn’t intend to see it through, and yet that somehow is treated by the courts as his or her final testament. There is also the possibility of fraud or undue influence being placed on vulnerable people.
“A proper Will, written by qualified legal professionals and signed by the owner and witnesses, is still the safest way of ensuring your wishes are properly recognised, and your Will executed as you wish after you pass away.”
For more advice please visit our ‘contact us‘ page or your nearest branch of Jones & Co Solicitors in Retford, Bawtry or Ollerton.