The Legacy sector – what will 2020 bring?

The Legacy sector – what will 2020 bring?

Electronic Wills

Whilst online companies like Farewill is are shaking up the Will drafting market and instructions can be given online, at the moment for a Will to be valid it still needs to comply with the Wills Act 1837 and a valid Will still require a wet signature and for it be witnessed properly.

However, with the acceptance of digital signatures in the commercial sphere, there seems to be a push for electronic signing of Wills. In July 2019, the US passed the Uniform Electronic Wills Act which permits testators to create, sign, and execute a valid Will without ever having to be in the physical presence of another person. Could the UK be next?

Anything that encourages someone to make a Will and increasing the possibility for a charity to be left a legacy has got to be a good thing. However, though the Wills Act may be ripe for modernisation, some feel that electronic signatures go too far. At the moment there does not seem to be sufficient safeguards in place to protect against fraud.

The last thing a charity wants is for a legacy in a professionally drafted and properly executed Will to be rendered invalid by a click of a button with no verification that it was even done by the testator or that they knew what they were doing. Watch this space!

Probate closures…

HMCTS intends to close almost all of its 18 probate sub-registries by the end of March 2020. The proposed closures are part of the government’s £1bn ‘Transforming our Justice System’ programme which aims to introduce technology and modern ways of working to court and tribunal services. In August, Birmingham District Probate Registry was the first office to close, with online applications re-directed to Birmingham Courts and Tribunal Service Centre. The eventual plan is to move probate services to the Courts and Tribunals Service Centre in Birmingham, with some administrative work taking place at a second site.

The main concern, of course, is that this will create delays in probate applications if they are all being dealt with at one centre which may have “teething problems”

Also, the ability to pick up the phone to the local probate registry office with a thorny query will have gone – instead replaced by a call centre.

Hopefully, this won’t affect probate grants in the same way that was experienced in 2019.

…and possible fee increases

Though the government shelved the probate fee increases as a result of the election, a new government has now been installed with a sizeable majority so it may very well be back on the table.

Of course, HMCTS still needs to find £1bn to pay for its new digitisation programme and its shiny new building in Birmingham. With cuts to budgets, fee increases seem to be the most obvious way of funding the changes. HMCTS may very well see the current fees of £155 and £215 as ripe for an increase as they seem low when compared to other court fees.

One of the main objections to the previous fee increases was that it was a stealth tax and the fee bore no relation to the actual work the Probate Registry was doing. However, if an increase in the flat fee was introduced across the board then this would remove the argument.

Therefore fee increases may be back on the agenda in 2020.

This is one prediction that we hope we are incorrect about!

HOT off the press … case update

1975 Act claims – Time limits
Thakare v Bhusate [2020] EWHC 52 (Ch)

The High Court upheld Chief Master Marsh’s decision at first instance to allow a widow to make a 1975 Act claim some 25 years out of time. The Court found no grounds for interfering with his decision.

We reflected on what 2019 brought to the Legacy sector, find out more here.