Reform of wills in England and Wales increases pressure in Jersey, says Ogier counsel

Proposed reforms to probate laws in England and Wales to give courts more leeway to recognise informally drafted wills are likely to lead to similar cases being heard in Jersey, says Ogier Counsel and probate manager Victoria Grogan.

Last month the Law Society of England and Wales provisionally agreed a proposal to give courts more flexibility to recognise wills where they do not meet the strict letter of the law, but where the intention of the testator (the person making the will) is clear.

The issue was highlighted recently with the case of a man in Queensland, Australia whose will was recognised by a court, despite only being recorded in an unsent text message. The message named the man's brother and nephew as his sole beneficiaries and gave nothing to his wife from whom he had recently split – but importantly, it ended with the words "my will".

Victoria, a Jersey Advocate who leads Ogier's Jersey probate team, said that the Jersey's Royal Court had exercised leeway in the past, including instances in which it had recognised wills written on the back of a duty roster, or on a typewriter.

She said: "The proposals for reform in England and Wales would enable wills expressed through an audio recording or an electronic message to be accepted as valid. Given the way that the world is changing, it surely cannot be too long before we see applications to the Royal Court for the recognition of a will written in a text, or recorded in an iPhone video.

"Jersey law on wills of immovable estate in particular dates back more than 150 years, to a time before typewriters were being produced commercially, let alone computers, tablets or smartphones. The proposals for reform in England and Wales are likely to lead to the authorities in Jersey having to consider the position here."