Petition Do not allow original wills to be destroyed after 25 years

Please #SaveOurWills! The MoJ proposes to digitise and then allow the destruction of original wills after 25 years. We call for the original wills to be preserved in perpetuity in line with current legislation. Do not agree to legislative changes that would allow the destruction of these documents.

More details

1. We think costs of digital preservation and storage could be astronomical.
2. The loss of digital files may be more likely than the loss of physical documents, for example via file corruption and cyber attacks.
3. Flaws and errors made during the digitisation process may happen.
4. The proposed changes to legislation may set a detrimental precedent for the destruction of other archive collections.
5. Physical documents provide additional information, such as the materiality of the documents.

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Government responded

This response was given on 1 March 2024

Possible reforms to the storage and preservation of wills are being consulted on, no decisions have been taken as yet, and a response will be published later this year.

Read the response in full

The Government is currently consulting on the storage and retention of original will documents submitted with applications for probate.

At present all the wills and documents submitted in support of probate (legal authority to manage larger estates of deceased persons) are preserved indefinitely in the original paper form.

These records date back to 1858 and make for a substantial and growing archive. In total we hold around 110 million paper documents.

The current cost of preserving this archive is currently £4.5 million per annum.

Wills received since 2021 have been automatically digitised with older wills copied into digital format where a request is received to inspect a copy.

The consultation proposes a reform that would enable older wills and documents to be converted to a digital form and then destroyed after a certain number of years (25 was suggested in the paper, but views have been invited on a suitable period).

Responses are also being sought on whether all the documents currently submitted to support a probate application needed to be preserved (as at present) – for example bank statements or copies of death certificates.

The consultation proposes that an exception to preserve original paper documents should be made for famous and noteworthy people, and views were sought on suitable criteria – although it was acknowledged that there may need to be further, more specific, consultation at a later date on that proposal, were it to proceed.

This is a consultation exercise – no decisions on any of these matters have been made as yet, and we will of course listen very carefully and take into account all of the responses we receive and the suggestions that are made. The Government’s formal response will be published later this year.

Ministry of Justice

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