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How do we bring wills into the 21st century?

Will writing

The Law Commission for England and Wales is consulting on measures to modernise legislation surrounding wills. What would you like to see them introduce to bring these Victorian laws up to date?

I was at a wedding reception over the summer and a fellow guest cheerily pointed out that if the bride or groom had already made a will, it could be invalid. Not the sort of conversation I was expecting, but I have to confess I didn’t know that was the case.

I’ve not actually made a will, although I know I should, and, as that wedding day chat highlighted, I’m not quite sure what all the rules mean anyway. Now I’m worried any will I do make will not pass on my possessions as I intend.

The Law Commission for England and Wales suggests that the UK’s 180-year-old will laws are unclear, outdated and fail to protect the vulnerable. They could even be putting people off making a will – which might be why 40% of people die without having written one.

Have you written a will?

Yes (71%, 168 Votes)

No (29%, 68 Votes)

Total Voters: 236

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It is now aiming to improve the way that these laws work. There have been numerous unhappy cases when someone’s wishes haven’t been followed, even though it was obvious what they wanted, simply because a series of strict rules have been followed to the letter.

The Commission is currently consulting on measures to bring these laws into the 21st century. These include proposals to soften the strict formality rules, introduce a new mental capacity test that reflects modern medical understanding of conditions such as dementia, and lower the age for making a will from 18 to 16.

It also suggests that in some cases, a person’s wishes expressed in a text and email should be recognised as a valid will, paving the way for electronic wills fit for a modern world.

Of course, making a will should be straightforward, and when it’s clear what someone’s intentions are, those wishes should be acted on. But the Law Commission is concerned that the Victorian laws can act as barriers to people making a will, and can lead to painful disputes over wills following the death of a loved one.

We’ll be submitting a response to the consultation, and would like to hear your experiences with wills.

Have you been involved in a dispute over the execution of a will? Have you put off making a will because you’ve thought it would be too complicated, or fear that your last wishes won’t be followed?

Sally Gray says:
23 August 2017

Why or for what reasons are they looking at changing the age from 18-16 in order to make a will?

Victoria Marriott says:
23 August 2017

Hi Sally,
The theory is that 16yr olds can get married, join the army, live alone and make many of their own other decisions; so they should be able to make a decision about who they leave their estate too as well.
Currently in England & Wales the testamentary age is 18yrs and in Scotland is it currently 12yrs old.


If you can marry, join the army, leave school, consent to sexual activity, live alone and make their own medical decisions at 16 then why not be allowed to choose who gets to enjoy your worldly possessions after you’re gone? In Scotland the ‘testamentary age’ is 12!

Sally Gray says:
23 August 2017

Oh my god! that’s such a difference in age. I think its a good idea to change the age to 16, the above points are so valid, maybe 12 is a little young in my opinion.


I agree with Richard its time our 180 year old ancient laws were updated in line with the advancement in scientific research and the development of the adolescent brain.

It’s generally accepted the pre frontal cortex does not fully develop until the mid twenties. The pre frontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for decision making, weighing up outcomes, forming judgments and controlling impulses and emotions. This section of the brain also helps people understand one another.

However, one area of a teenagers brain that is fairly well developed is the nucleus accumbens, one area that seeks pleasure and reward. A combination of underdeveloped pre frontal cortex in conjunction with a strong desire for pleasure and reward may explain a lot of stereotypical teenage behaviour.

The idea that 16 year olds are capable of making such rational long term decisions such as choosing to engage in sexual intimacy, getting married, joining the army, making a will, is unrealistic. No wonder nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and couples who can’t afford to separate are forced to live out the rest of their lives in passive frustration and unfulfillment.

Science has provided the evidence, surely its high time our outdated laws were changed to coincide with this.


I agree. But science is really simply a distillation of averages. For instance, it also ‘proves’ that teetotallers die before those who drink alcohol – and drink fairly substantially. The real issue is that we know fairly little about the human body and it’s dangerous to suggest selective studies can provide conclusive ‘proof’ about anything, really.

Sean Deery says:
24 August 2017

Great job


I don’t quite understand the connection between the amount people drink and being old enough and mentally and emotional enough to make a will. Please elucidate, preferably staying on topic which is ‘How do we bring wills into the 21st century.’


Indeed: you said “Science has provided the evidence, surely its high time our outdated laws were changed to coincide with this. and I merely pointed out a couple of facts: that ‘Science’ research is a snapshot process, in effect, whereby peer reviews and the work of other researchers in the field can often produce wildly differing findings subsequent to the original research being published. I then offered an example of this, whereby ‘Science’ has proved that alcohol intake beneath a certain level has been demonstrated to extend life expectancy. In that instance, interestingly, various special interest groups continue to produce their own ‘research findings’ which dispute what the now comprehensive meta-analyses have shown.

In short, a scientist of any calibre will never state anything with absolute confidence.