Should Original Wills Be Stored In Paper Form? MoJ Consults Legal Industry

Digital Will Storage Consultation Undertaken By HMCTS

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has initiated a consultation concerning the management and retention of original Will documents within HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).

This consultation aims to reevaluate the existing framework for Will storage, exploring avenues to conserve original Wills more economically and efficiently. The goal is to maintain accessibility to these documents for examination during Probate disputes while streamlining the storage process.

Presently, there exists no time constraint on the retention of original paper Wills by courts. Many documents are retained long after the window for potential Probate challenges has closed, with HMCTS holding papers dating as far back as 1858.

The MoJ highlights the considerable expenses associated with the current storage and preservation methods, which escalate annually. These costs are becoming increasingly difficult to rationalise, particularly when digital preservation offers a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative.

The proposal suggests transitioning to a digital preservation system for Will documents, replacing the traditional practice of retaining all original paper submissions from Probate applications. The consultation also seeks opinions on potential modifications to the right to inspect stored Wills. Furthermore, it will explore whether original paper Wills of notable historical figures should be preserved indefinitely.

Since 2021, HMCTS has been creating digital duplicates of newly deposited Wills. The MoJ now proposes extending this digitization process to encompass previously stored Wills through a phased approach. This digitisation effort would ensure the perpetual preservation and accessibility of Wills for inspection, albeit in digital format, thereby circumventing the substantial costs associated with physical storage.

The consultation primarily targets legal professionals in England and Wales and is open for submissions until February 23, 2024. A summary of responses will be published in the summer of 2024.