Legacy blog: The future is digital

But where does that leave charitable giving in wills?

Charity Legacies

When I was asked to chair a panel discussion on The Future of Will Making at the Legacy Strategy Summit, I jumped at the chance. I don’t draft wills – I’m a dispute resolution lawyer, advising charities on how to manage and resolve legacy disputes – but this is such a key issue for my clients, I was keen to be involved.

We live in a world where, increasingly, we conduct much of our day-to-day lives online: shopping, banking, all levels of communication – why not will-writing?

For charities – where legacy fundraising is a priority – many feel there is a fine balance between the risks and opportunities to be had when it comes to online wills.

Jane Hallahan of Mencap raised some excellent points around the concerns. For instance, it is difficult to verify testamentary capacity, or spot where undue influence is being exerted, if the will is being completed online. As someone who litigates for charities over contested wills, I’m there when it all goes wrong and can appreciate why a charity might be wary of the risk.

But the future is inevitable, whether the sector is ready or not. Alex McDowell, of both Remember a Charity and RNIB, challenged the audience to think ahead five to ten years. It’s unrealistic to think that online wills will not be even more popular by then. Alex outlined the choice for charities: bury their heads in the sand, or be in the vanguard to embrace the change.

There are plenty of reasons for charities to feel enthusiastic about the move to online wills. Farewill has pointed out that online wills are driving up will making, which could be great news for legacy fundraising if the platform contains a prompt to consider leaving a gift to charity. Jonathan Brewer of online service Bequeathed said there is a lot more helpful content embedded in the process including substantial notes and guidance, checks and balances and, crucially, access to further legal advice.

Personally, I see this as part of a much wider discussion around how legal services are delivered. As a lawyer, I can see we’re steadily moving in a direction where simple document drafting will increasingly be automated, and a solicitor’s role will be to add value with quality advice and strategic thinking. Other benefits of using a solicitor include regulation and insurance. At Bates Wells Braithwaite, we’ve launched an online document-drafting site, Get Legal, for small charities. It doesn’t make wills, but it can be used to build a range of legal documents at low cost, from employment contracts to a data protection policy.

Coming back to wills, I agree in large part with Chris Millward of ILM, who said that what matters is having a “good” will. For me, “good” means choice, appropriate advice, and informed decision making including regarding potential issues such as avoiding disputes down the road. These criteria are not only important for testators, but for beneficiaries (including charities!) who will ultimately benefit from a robust and well drafted will.

Leticia Jennings is a Dispute Resolution & Litigation partner, and co-leads the firm’s Legacies, Trusts & Probate Disputes team. She regularly speaks at industry events, and contributes commentary and know-how to leading publications.

This information is necessarily of a general nature and doesn’t constitute legal advice. This is not a substitute for formal legal advice, given in the context of full information under an engagement with Bates Wells.

All content on this page is correct as of June 15, 2018.