The Law Commission today announced that it is considering whether texts, emails and other electronic communications should be recognised as a valid will in exceptional circumstances.
As the report identifies, 40% of adults do not have a will. Anything that encourages more people to make their wishes explicit is to be welcomed. That said, a will which sets out your last wishes needs careful consideration and reflection. The existing formal process of signing a will goes some way to provide this through its requirement of two witnesses and independent corroboration of the event.
Emails and text messages, on the other hand, are often sent in haste and without much thought. We should exercise caution when over-subscribing to the pressures of an increasingly digital world where matters as important as this are concerned.
If emails and text messages are accepted as a valid and legally binding expression of someone's wishes, there is obviously the risk of abuse. There's also the question of how it is going to be possible to ensure that one particular message, understood to be a person's last wishes, hasn't been subsequently changed by a later email or text.
The Commission has proposed a number of protections, which I would expect to be strongly supported given the increasingly elderly population who are susceptible to financial abuse. We have certainly seen an increase in cases involving financial abuse of vulnerable adults.
I would be concerned that without very careful moderation, permitting digital technology to transmit someone's wishes will simply increase the potential for will disputes.