Disputes can arise no matter your age or the value of your assets.
The Guardian recently reported that the Law Commission have pitched that anyone in England and Wales as young as 16 should be allowed to write a Will. The argument comes from the ever evolving digital make up of online and digital assets.
A digital asset, in essence, is anything that exists in a binary format and comes with the right to use. Data that do not possess that right are not considered assets. Digital assets include but are not exclusive to: digital documents, audible content, motion picture, and other relevant digital data that are currently in circulation or are, or will be stored on digital appliances, including, but not exclusive to, personal computers, laptops, portable media players, tablets, storage devices, and telecommunication devices.
The Law Commission reported that more people than ever have substantial amounts of property to pass on after their death, however, as many as 40% of adults have not made a Will.
There is nothing to say that a person as young as 16 cannot use their own initiative, if they are aware of their asset value (monetary or otherwise), to record their wishes in a Will – in accordance with the appropriate legislation. By doing so, this may assist the Court in understanding the individual’s wishes. One of the key questions is whether this document would be sufficient in determining the wishes of that individual as well as ensuring that the appropriate Mental Capacity Act test is established when writing a Will.
The need for reform was demonstrated by the extraordinary case of a 14-year-old girl who suffered from terminal cancer and had sought the permission from the High Court to have her body cryogenically preserved. The 14-year-old girl’s wishes were agreed by her family; however a High Court ruling was required in order to proceed with her wishes. These were lengthy and costly legal proceedings which could have been avoided had there have been a Will drafted.
The Law Commission in their obvious appreciation for the increase in disputes arising after death have also proposed that the Courts consider other types of records such as texts, emails and voice messages so as to determine an inheritance plan for an individual no matter their age.
There is naturally a flip side to this. The reliance on electronic documents as evidence in support of a person’s wishes could unveil an endless number of dissatisfied relatives, therefore allowing probate to become even more contentious and therefore expensive.
In the event that there is movement towards electronic Wills it raises the important question of how safe they would be from fraud or undue influence against vulnerable people. The Law Commission will need to examine these issues carefully to help them avoid unintended consequences such changes might create.
Contentious probate is a very real issue that many do not appreciate. Disputes can sadly arise between family members very easily when it comes to decisions regarding their loved ones or the assets that they held. Griffin Law are here to help and support you through this difficult time and to work with you to achieve a satisfactory conclusion whilst being commercially minded to avoid spiralling legal costs.