Will reforms must not endanger the elderly.

Probate legislation amending the ways in which Wills are executed is still outstanding. However, the government appears to be ruling out privileged Wills. They have stated that the current pandemic must be balanced against safeguards in the law used to protect the elderly and vulnerable. 

The Gazette reported last week that the government risks missing the boat on emergency legislation, but it is still awaited . I think lawyers across the country will recognise the need to protect the vulnerable, but amendments in the legislation are required without further delay. 

The government has confirmed it is considering reforms to the probate legislation, but said lockdown restrictions must be weighed up against the protection of elderly people from fraud.

Responding to a written question, Alex Chalk MP, a junior justice minister, told parliament that ‘the constraints of the Covid-19 situation must be balanced against the important safeguards in the law to protect elderly and vulnerable people, in particular against undue influence and fraud. Having two independent witnesses provides safeguards to those making wills’.

Chalk appeared to rule out an extension of privileged wills – which allow members of the armed forces to draw up a will quickly when normal formalities cannot be observed – stating military conditions do ‘not equate to the current civil circumstances’. However, he said the government is considering the use of technology and the witnessing of documents by video conference. Any solution is expected to come from 2017 Law Commission report on will making reform.

The Gazette understands that the government risks missing the boat on emergency probate legislation if a decision is not made quickly. Once an outcome has been agreed by ministers it will need primary legislation to enact any changes.

The Law Society said it is fully committed to working with the Ministry of Justice to have a workable solution and in the meantime will continue to offer solicitors practical guidance and support on implementing the current legislation in difficult times.