Electronic wills need safeguards, warns Institute of Legacy Management

In its reply to a Law Commission consultation on modernising legacies, the ILM says tighter regulation and standardisation of online will-writing platforms is needed

Charities could miss out on legacies if electronic wills are introduced without the necessary safeguards and standards to ensure they can be enforced in law, the Institute of Legacy Management has warned.

The ILM’s statement comes in response to a Law Commission consultation that considers ways of modernising legacy law and making sure it is easier to implement people’s wishes as noted in their wills. The consultation closes today.

The Law Commission’s proposals include making provision for electronic wills, which are loosely defined as using digital technology during the process of creating or executing a will, and giving courts the power to recognise a will where formal rules have not been followed but the will-maker has made their intentions explicitly clear.

In its submission to the consultation, the ILM said the proposals failed to acknowledge that a growing trend for producing electronic wills was already having an effect.

The ILM said tighter regulation and standardisation of online will-writing platforms could help to ensure that new technology was introduced while retaining essential safeguards and standards.

It said the consultation allowed the Lord Chancellor to introduce electronic wills without specifying the timeline or level of public consultation required.

Chris Millward, chief executive of the ILM, said: “The consultation seems to defer all conversation on technology in the will process, suggesting it’s a future problem. But we know that people writing wills online is having an impact now and requires considerable consideration, fast.

“Our members are already seeing the consequences of wills made online and, as we become more reliant on technology, this is likely to increase. There is a risk of badly drawn-up wills resulting in donors’ final wishes being frustrated and failing, which means charities and their beneficiaries will miss out on vital support. The introduction of fully electronic wills would complicate the process further.”

The charity legacy consortium Remember A Charity also warned in its submission to the consultation that safeguards were required to make sure electronic and video wills were not easily challenged in court. But it welcomed the idea of bringing wills “out of the dark ages” through new technology.

Rob Cope, director of Remember A Charity, said: “We need to be mindful that relaxing the laws around what makes a will legally valid could create uncertainty and increase the scope for legacy disputes. This means having more accessible, regulated will-writing opportunities, while ensuring appropriate checks are in place to test mental capacity and protect against undue influence.

“With the number of contested wills rising, charities are keen to avoid the emotional, financial and reputational costs associated with inheritance disputes, defending donors’ wishes and their own legal obligation for funds allocated to them.”

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Too few qualified staff to handle legacies, says institute chief

Chris Millward, chief executive of the Institute of Legacy Management, also tells seminar that a lack of qualifications and training means many charities lack the soft skills that would help

Charities are not employing enough qualified staff to handle legacies and will struggle with rising volumes of cases, according to Chris Millward, chief executive of the Institute of Legacy Management.

A lack of qualifications and training has also meant that many charities lack the soft skills to help them deal with difficult or disputed legacy cases, he said.

Speaking at a seminar on the issues facing charity legacies, held by the law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite in central London yesterday, Millward said the problem of staff recruitment was one of the things that kept him awake at night.

“There’s a challenge at the moment in that charities aren’t necessarily employing professionally qualified people to undertake the role of legacy administration,” he said.

The institute needed to work to establish legacy administration as a recognised and respected profession, he said, in much the same way the Institute of Fundraising was with fundraising.

“I think there are some challenges coming down the line, particularly in regard to the rising death rate of the baby-boomer generation,” Millward said.

“What that actually means is that hopefully we’re going to get more legacy gifts, but also that we’ve got a resourcing issue because we can’t currently recruit as many people as we need to do the job let alone do the job well to handle those increasing numbers.”

He said the sector needed to consider what kind of training or professional qualifications candidates should have to make them effective legacy administrators, how they should communicate with those people and encourage them into the profession and how they should be supported once they entered it.

This would also put charities in a better position to focus on supporter care and deal with more complex legacy disputes, Millward said.

“We portray ourselves quite often as the victim in some of these scenarios, unable to do anything about our own situation,” he said.

“But what we’ve failed on is some of those softer skills: communications, being sensitive, influencing, managing internal stakeholders – the stuff that actually is critical and creates those breakthrough moments.”

Michael Clark, legacy and in-memory manager at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, who also spoke at the seminar, agreed there was an issue with recruitment because the career was not well known and was not seen as a sexy. He said that charities should start raising awareness of legacy administration at universities.

He said there was also a problem with retention.

“Some of the larger charities are starting to implement, good robust structures to enable legacy staff to develop,” said Clark. “But an awful lot don’t employ anybody in the legacies department over management level despite the income probably being greater than any other income within their organisation.”

Legacy administrators tended to stay in post for only 18 months or so because there was very little opportunity to move on once they reached manager level, he said, and for small charities, replacing them could mean having to start again with a new strategy.

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