Law Changes Regarding Making A Will

Look into most UK laws and you will find origins dating back to Roman times. They may well have invaded our country but they bought with them many benefits, being way ahead of their times in matters of order and rights.

They can be held pretty much responsible for many laws governing making a will also. Many countries had no propensity to enforce where a person’s belongings went to on their death and if today’s standards are anything to go by, this could have led to many family feuds.

Many laws also came from Ancient Greece regarding making a will, although various parts of the country had their own take on it. Most areas under Roman jurisdiction or Greek would specify that when making a will, the family of the deceased should inherit everything. This was to ensure the continuation of that family.

Some local rulers in Greece agreed that greater ties could be made between friends rather than family and would allow considerations for this when their citizens were making a will. No women or adoptees were allowed to make wills and slaves or foreigners possessions would be seized upon death for public use.

To be of sound mind when making a will and to be under no duress were important rules that all law makers have kept when will writing and that still stand today. It would seem Ancient Greeks and Romans put a lot more store by the influence a woman could have over her husband and any cajoling or encouragement that might influence his decisions would make the will void.

The Romans considered making a will to be their moral duty. If they wished to disinherit a child it had to be for a good, provable reason and they had to leave them a minor monetary token to show their disproval. To die without leaving a will brought shame on the deceased and their family.

If a person is left out of a will entirely these days it does not show bad morals, just the will makers intention to disinherit. Romans could not contest part of a will like we can today. The will should stand or fall entirely, whereas now parts of a will can be upheld while others can be argued.

The effects of Christianity on making a will were quite profound. They instilled a duty to bequeath a certain proportion of belongings or money to the Church. Priests overtook law makers as witnesses to wills and they were often kept in churches.

This, in part, went a long way to making churches rich and, ultimately, to them being poor when this was no longer a requirement.

Trends regarding making a will had altered in mainland Britain by the 1600’s. Girls of 12 and boys of 14 were now allowed to make wills leaving their personal effects. These changes were probably due to the fact that people were marrying at a much younger age and also dying at a very young age.

Will making has always been seen as a very serious business. The Larceny Act of 1861 shows that the crime of stealing, damaging or concealing a will was punishable by penal servitude for the rest of the criminal’s life. Forgery of a will also came with the same punishment, although this had been reduced from the death penalty.

Since 1897 when the last changes to will making laws were made governing land transfer were introduced, there have been no major alterations. However, I am very pleased to say that the ancient rule of women only being allowed to make a will with their husband’s permission has long been abolished.

Legal expert Catherine Harvey looks at the laws governing making a will and how they have changed over the years. To find out more please visit