We all know (or we should do, anyway) that the traditional way of preparing a will is for it to be written on paper, signed by the person making the will and witnessed by two independent people.
Does that sound a little boring and old-fashioned in the digital age?
We think so, too. But though it may be a bit backward, it just happens to be the way wills in England and Wales have to be done to be valid.
And before you try to catch us out, we know there are exceptions for soldiers in actual military service and sailors at sea, who can make oral wills - but we’re limiting ourselves to talking about the rest of you without wills. In other words, only about 75% of the population aged between 16 and 54.
So, we were wondering: would it make a difference if we could all make video wills?
Put simply, a video will is a video recording of someone’s wishes. In effect their will is recorded and stored digitally.
Sound convenient? Could this be the thing to finally spur you into making a will? Before you get too carried away and reach for the camcorder, we have good news and bad news.
The bad news is that a video will is not a legally binding document. It fails on two, possibly three, counts – it’s not written and it’s not signed. And it may not be witnessed.
But the good news is that a video will is an excellent way of supplementing a traditional, valid written will.
Say you want to leave a number of legacies in your will – it may be that you want to divide your collection of antique books between your children. Or perhaps you have an array of sentimental items which you want to make sure go to the right people.
Making a video will gives you the opportunity to tell your loved ones the way you feel, and to explain why certain items are being left to certain individuals. Why not take a virtual tour around your house, showing some of the more obscure items so that there’s no confusion once you’re no longer around?
To a certain extent, making a letter of wishes to accompany your will gives you a similar opportunity to explain your wishes - but your loved ones may appreciate hearing it from the horse’s mouth. Equally, you may find it easier to explain your feelings in person, so to speak, rather than on paper.
And of course, if your will is ever contested in the future, having video evidence of your true intentions is unlikely to be ignored by the court.
Is this the beginning of the end for paper wills? After all, paper is a relatively fragile material which can be easily destroyed or lost over time.
Surely, it would be much quicker and easier to produce, amend and store a video will, as no physical space would be required. And you could have as many back-ups as you wanted.
This is all true. But we think there’s still quite a long way to go, not to mention some fairly major changes to the law that would be needed, before we can throw away the quill pens (and before you ask – no, we don’t actually use quill pens).
Going completely digital when it comes to wills may in fact cause more problems than it would solve. Not only would there need to be a new legislative framework to replace the existing rules, but there are also questions about storage and security.
Technology changes so quickly, will it be possible to actually access a video will when current digital devices are redundant in the future?
Rewind to the 1980s – if you’d been making a video will back then you’d probably have used VHS or, perish the thought, Betamax (neither of them being digital media anyway). Even if your family could find the required equipment to playback your video will, the quality will have deteriorated over time and your last words may end up being unwatchable.
One solution might be to upload a video will to a video sharing site like YouTube. But the nature of comments on sites like this might ruffle a few feathers - who wants their parting words to be rated out of five stars? Besides which, there is the very real question of people getting access to your ‘digital assets’ after your death. We don’t have a method for managing that yet.
And even if you did manage to find an appropriate place to store a digital will, how safe would it be?
Although no physical space would be needed, there would definitely be issues of privacy. Fraudulent hacking activities are prevalent all over the internet and digital world – not only could your will fall into the wrong hands, it could be accidentally, or even deliberately, destroyed.
Despite the apparent benefits of digital wills, video doesn’t trump the written word. Not just yet, anyway.
There’s a place for video wills to reinforce and clarify a written will, but a digital will won’t stand-up as a legally binding document on its own.
So for now, we’re stuck with making good old traditional written wills. But that’s not to say you can’t use modern technology to create one. Just click the button at the top of the page.
You can find out more about what makes a will legally binding.