TIME TO RELAX THE FORMALITIES FOR A WILL? WHY NOT ALLOW A TEXT OR RECORDING TO BECOME YOUR WILL?
Making a will in Singapore – Should the law be relaxed to allow notes, emails and voicemail messages to be used in place of a written will?
TIME TO RELAX THE FORMALITIES FOR A WILL?
Updated on 30 May 2020
Under Singapore law, wills need to be written and signed by the ‘testator’ as well as two witnesses in order to be valid.
There are other strict requirements as spelt out in the Wills Act (Cap 352). For instance, your two witnesses cannot be beneficiaries and you must sign your will at the foot of the document.
The rules that you must write a will on paper came many years ago, at a time when mobile phones, computers, tablets and video recording were not yet invented.
So, if you are ill in hospital, and you wish to make a will or to change your will, you cannot do so unless you have pen and paper, and unless you have two witnesses. You cannot just simply write a note or email or record a message. There is nothing the courts can do even if you make your intentions very clear – unless your will is in writing and follows the requirements of the Wills Act, the courts cannot act on your wishes.
Should the law be relaxed to allow notes, emails and voicemail messages to be used in place of a written will?
In the UK, a radical proposal by the Law Commission may pave the way for people to use voicemail and text messages to make their wills.
The Law Commission has branded the current legacy system ‘outdated’ and recommends it be revolutionised to keep up with the digital age.
The plans drawn up by the UK Commission call for the law to be relaxed to allow notes, emails and voicemail messages to be used in place of a written will.
Under the proposals, new powers would allow judges to decide “on the balance of probabilities” whether a person’s recording or note is an accurate summary of that person’s wishes.
The Commission says that “there are strong arguments that it should apply not only to traditional written documents, but also where testators express their testamentary intentions in an electronic format, as well as in an audio or audio-visual recording.”
The consultation adds: “A person who is seriously ill in hospital may have more immediate access to a tablet or smartphone than to a pen and paper, and may be more able to speak than to write.”
While technology is now increasingly being used even for court hearings, the day cannot be far when a Will can also be valid if it the signing is witnessed electronically by 2 witnesses. There should be no need for the physical presence of two witnesses in today’s age.
It may be time to re-look at the Wills Act as many technological changes have taken place since it was last enacted. It cannot be right that a person’s true intentions cannot be upheld in a court of law merely because he did not have his intentions recorded by pen and paper, or that was not witnessed by 2 witnesses in the same room. Perhaps the time has come for a will to be recognised even if the person making it did it via a recording, a text message or an email or if it was witnessed remotely – provided safeguards are put in place.