Charities could miss out on legacies if electronic wills are introduced without the necessary safeguards and standards to ensure they can be enforced in law, the Institute of Legacy Management has warned.
The ILM’s statement comes in response to a Law Commission consultation that considers ways of modernising legacy law and making sure it is easier to implement people’s wishes as noted in their wills. The consultation closes today.
The Law Commission’s proposals include making provision for electronic wills, which are loosely defined as using digital technology during the process of creating or executing a will, and giving courts the power to recognise a will where formal rules have not been followed but the will-maker has made their intentions explicitly clear.
In its submission to the consultation, the ILM said the proposals failed to acknowledge that a growing trend for producing electronic wills was already having an effect.
The ILM said tighter regulation and standardisation of online will-writing platforms could help to ensure that new technology was introduced while retaining essential safeguards and standards.
It said the consultation allowed the Lord Chancellor to introduce electronic wills without specifying the timeline or level of public consultation required.
Chris Millward, chief executive of the ILM, said: "The consultation seems to defer all conversation on technology in the will process, suggesting it’s a future problem. But we know that people writing wills online is having an impact now and requires considerable consideration, fast.
"Our members are already seeing the consequences of wills made online and, as we become more reliant on technology, this is likely to increase. There is a risk of badly drawn-up wills resulting in donors’ final wishes being frustrated and failing, which means charities and their beneficiaries will miss out on vital support. The introduction of fully electronic wills would complicate the process further."
The charity legacy consortium Remember A Charity also warned in its submission to the consultation that safeguards were required to make sure electronic and video wills were not easily challenged in court. But it welcomed the idea of bringing wills "out of the dark ages" through new technology.
Rob Cope, director of Remember A Charity, said: "We need to be mindful that relaxing the laws around what makes a will legally valid could create uncertainty and increase the scope for legacy disputes. This means having more accessible, regulated will-writing opportunities, while ensuring appropriate checks are in place to test mental capacity and protect against undue influence.
"With the number of contested wills rising, charities are keen to avoid the emotional, financial and reputational costs associated with inheritance disputes, defending donors’ wishes and their own legal obligation for funds allocated to them."