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Wills Act to be updated

Cohabitants and charities could benefit from an update to the law

20 August 2014

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The Law Commission has announced that it will be reviewing the Wills Act 1837 at the start of next year and will deliver its report with final recommendations and a draft bill at the start of 2018.

The review will focus on four key areas which have been identified as needing reform: testamentary capacity, the formalities for a valid will, the rectification of wills and mutual wills.

The Wills Act 1837 is the primary wills statute in England and Wales and has been criticised for being too complicated and impractical and discouraging people from creating wills; it is estimated that over 40 per cent of the adult population do not have a will and due to the current state of the law, wills which have been made are often found to be invalid.

Professor Elizabeth Cooke, Commissioner with responsibility for property, family and trust law, said: "This project provides an excellent opportunity to review the outdated law of wills to encourage and facilitate will-making in the 21st century. The current legal rules can be unclear, undermining the deceased person's wishes.

"Reform in this area of law will provide greater certainty and protection both for those making wills and those who stand to benefit from them. Better, up to date law should encourage more people to make arrangements for when they die, and avoid the need for expensive litigation, which can divide families and cause great distress."

Currently if a person dies without having made a will, the rules on intestacy apply, which the Law Commission has described as "a blunt instrument that cannot replace the expression of a person's own wishes".

Cohabitants and charities cannot benefit under the rules of intestacy, as only married couples, civil partners, children and close relatives can inherit the estate.

Developments in technology and medicine will also be considered in an attempt to encourage and enable will making.

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Wills, Trusts & Probate