Landmark judgment reinforced argument for updating laws that date from the Victorian era.
Last summer the Law Commission announced it wanted ‘Victorian-era’ wills law to be brought into the modern age. Among its proposals was that a will, via a dispensing power, should be valid even if technical formalities are not complied with – this could include amendments to existing wills. The commission proposed that this should apply not only to written documents but also to those in an electronic format.
There were a few days of fanfare in the media: ‘Wills by text message’ was a headline I remember seeing on more than one occasion.
But the government, after trotting out the inevitable ‘we will carefully consider the proposals’ line, has gone quiet. I accept there may be more pressing issues than the archaic - and by its very nature moribund - world of wills. But it is an issue that won’t go away.
Last week for example, we reported on Ubbi v Ubbi - an Inheritance Act dispute in which a mother, Bianca Corrado, appeared as a litigation friend on behalf of her two young children to try and secure a proportion of her deceased partner’s estate. The children’s father and Corrado’s ex, Malkiat Ubbi, was married to another woman and although he was in the process of getting divorced he died before this was finalised.
He had yet to update his will to include reasonable provision for he and Corrado’s children, so they were left with nothing from his £3.5m estate. The only option was to go through the courts.
This, you might think, would have provided the perfect opportunity to make use of the ‘dispensing power’ provision.
During a recent chat with a law firm I was reminded that more than 60% of the UK public die without a will. The terms ‘general unawareness’ and ‘apathy’ were used when describing people’s attitude to both will-making and making alterations in the event of a change in circumstance. One lawyer also said many people ‘come out of the woodwork’ to make claims when someone dies intestate.
Whether or not Ubbi intended to leave his will unchanged only he will know - but had he had the option to do this quickly, it could have avoided costly litigation.
Until we see legislative change, this type of dispute will only recur.