The government risks missing the boat on emergency probate legislation as ministers continue to agonise over possible options, the Gazette understands.
A major overhaul of probate legislation has been expected since March to enable people to make wills under social distancing rules. Among the options on the table are an Australian-style approach which would give judges more flexibility when deciding what constitutes a will; a European-style system where testators could write wills by hand without witnesses; and a process where wills could be witnessed electronically.
However, the Gazette understands that government ministers have still not decided which option to put before Parliament – or whether to change the law at all. It is expected that any legislation will be retroactive, applying to all wills made since the start of the pandemic, and will be time limited. Current laws around the signing of wills have been in place since 1837.
The Law Society of Scotland has temporarily amended its guidance on witnessing the signing of wills to allow lawyers to act as witnesses via video conference, so long as they are not appointed as executor. Canada has also changed its rules to allow wills to be witnessed remotely.
Law firms in England are becoming increasingly inventive in their approach to probate, with Darlington firm Latimer Hinks Solicitors introducing a kerbside will-signing service to meet a surge in demand.