STEP members input into reform of the law of wills

doctor with patientEarlier this week STEP held the second of three consultation events on the reform of the law of wills. Law Commission representatives Dr Nick Hopkins and Spencer Clarke invited feedback from STEP members in England and Wales on key areas of the consultation including, capacity, statutory wills, formalities, electronic will-making, protecting vulnerable testators and revocation.

At both events, practitioners raised substantial issues relating to the review of the test for capacity to make a will under Banks v Goodfellow (1870), the review of the formality rules, the introduction of court dispensing powers and further possible protection measures for vulnerable testators.

Some particularly pertinent questions that initiated discussion amongst members at the events were:

• How can the Golden Rule (where the making of a will by an elderly or ill testator is witnessed or approved by a medical practitioner who is satisfied of their capacity) be improved?
• Should the Wills Act adopt the Mental Capacity Act 2005 for decisions regarding testamentary capacity?
• Could other professionals such as psychiatrists assess capacity, not just medical practitioners?
• Should the ‘attestation’ requirement be removed?
• Should a dispensing power be introduced to allow judges to override a will formality that has been overlooked, for example, missing witnesses?
• Should the marriage revocation clause be reconsidered or removed?
• Is there scope for expanding the undue influence doctrine, in order to further protect vulnerable testators?
• Could there be more clarity separating the concepts of undue influence, and knowledge and approval?
• Have nominations been taken into consideration, particularly considering they require far less formalities than wills?
• Do domicile and residence issues need to be considered, including how the new rules would operate within other jurisdictions?

Members note that these roadshow type events are invaluable in the consultation process. The Commission, in turn, has been pleased with the response from members at both events.

Following the consultation deadline on 10 November 2017 there will be an analysis stage, after which a report and impact statement will be published by the Commission and subsequently a draft Bill.

Spaces are still available at the Manchester event on 18 October at Mills & Reeves LLP.

If your firm is unable to attend a consultative event, but would like to submit some feedback on the consultation to be incorporated into STEP’s consultation response, please contact emily.deane@step.org by 30 October.

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel