Gina Miller calls for recognition of oral wills

Businesswoman, campaigner and philanthropist Gina Miller is aunching a new initiative, www.messagesoflove.co.uk, to provide the British public with a simple, safe and secure way of leaving private messages for loved ones during uncertain times due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The platform enables members of the public to “deposit” messages for loved ones – including letters, photos, audio and video recordings – in a secure, password protected digital memory box, to be opened in the event of their death. The box will only be accessible by a designated Nominee, posthumously, after provision of a death certificate. This service is free for all to use, including coronavirus patients, NHS staff on the frontline, care workers, and those considered most vulnerable, as well as anyone feeling worried and seeking some peace of mind in these extremely tragic times. 

Miller says: “Sitting at home watching the utter heartbreak of families losing loved ones, not least carers and frontline workers fighting this terrifying pandemic, not being able to say goodbye or attend funerals, I had to do something. I hope that these memory boxes never have to be opened by grieving families, but life is so fragile right now. We all owe responsibilities to each other to lessen pain and suffering at a time of tragedy and heartache for so many. Messages of Love is not morbid. It offers a practical, simple and secure way of saying I love you one more time, to express any dying wishes, to help loved ones cope with grief. It is simple compassion.” 

Miller is also calling on the UK Government to urgently review existing Will legislation, as the existing laws for creating and updating Wills are draconian, inflexible and not fit for purpose in the midst of a pandemic. In some states in the USA, and in other countries, verbal Wills are valid but not in the UK. Social isolating can obstruct the current rules for writing and witnessing of wills, and sudden death can prevent a Will being drawn up or updated in the first place. The Wills Act 1837 contains provisions for a ‘privileged will’, which allows members of the armed forces to draw up a document quickly in an emergency – in these circumstances, they are allowed to make a written or oral will. Miller believes the Government has the ability, under the Coronavirus Emergency Act 2020, to make such Oral or ‘Bedside’ Wills legally binding, on a reviewable, time-limited basis. 

Miller says: “None of us want to die without, in the time-honoured phrase, ‘putting our affairs in order’, making proper provisions for those we love, or worse, leaving behind unnecessary anguish and paperwork for them. Without a Will, the laws of intestacy decide how assets are divided, which could leave partners and children with very little. The Law also treats unmarried partners as single, irrespective of how long they have lived together and allows courts to decide the future of their children. We cannot allow rules about the drafting and witnessing of wills, which are sensible and proportionate in peacetime, preclude people making adequate provision for those they leave behind in these tragic times. If ever there was a practical problem that cried out for Government attention, for their humanity, this is surely it. It is not just about common-sense but compassion. 

“There may be those who say Oral Wills will be open to abuse, but modern technology allows encryption and other online security measures, to address and minimise these risks.” 

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, the prominent human rights advocate who is supporting Miller’s calls for legislative change, adds: “We should learn lessons from the bedside wills that an earlier generation of heroes were able to benefit from during the Second World War. This generation is no less valiant or deserving of the dignity and peace of mind that putting their affairs in order will bring.”