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Solicitors warn on British electronic-wills plan
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11 Dec 2023 / britain Print

Solicitors warn on British electronic-wills plan

The Law Society of England and Wales has raised concerns that electronic wills could lead to a higher risk of fraud.

The solicitors’ body has responded to a Law Commission consultation on wills reform that is taking place due to the 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 of England and Wales 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. Solicitors also expressed concern, however, about electronic wills increasing the risk of fraud and undue influence.

Paper process

Law Society President Nick Emmerson said that the organisation supported provisions to enable electronic wills to be made valid under the law, and was not opposed to the use of technology to facilitate will-making.

“It is important that the requirements for an electronic will provide the right level of protection,” Emmerson stated.

“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,” he stated.

Predatory marriage

As part of its consultation, the Law Commission is also considering whether the law should be changed to stop marriage from automatically revoking a will.

The society’s survey found that one in five solicitors reported having had a client that they suspected was in a 'predatory marriage'. Emmerson described this finding as “alarming”.

Predatory marriage occurs when a person marries someone as a form of financial abuse.

Just over 40% of solicitors agreed that the law should be changed to stop marriage from automatically revoking a will. The same number of respondents disagreed, however.

The society said that this finding showed that more consideration was needed.

‘No consensus’ on law change

“Further action is required to address predatory marriage, and prevent exploitation of vulnerable people through the marriage and wills process,” said Emmerson.

“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,” he added.

“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,” Emmerson concluded.

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