Researchers recommend teaching wills in schools alongside financial literacy

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According to the QUT researchers, who are also examining the growing role of “smart” technologies in the process, education about wills should start in schools and be taught alongside financial literacy.

Associate Professor Tina Cockburn, Co-Director of the Australian Center for Health Law Research (ACHLR) is co-author of “A Behavioral Economics Analysis of Will Making Preferences: When to Begin and Who Should Have the Most Input?”

To be published by Minnesota Journal of International Lawthis is the result of a joint study with QUT’s Center for Behavioral Economics, Society and Technology (BEST).

“COVID-19 has highlighted the stark reality of the fragility of the human condition and the inevitability of death. She also drew attention to the need to plan for the actual transfer of assets in the event of death, primarily by making a valid will,” said Professor Cockburn.

“There are many negative legal, social and economic consequences of dying without a valid will. The assets of the deceased person, for example, are divided according to intestate rules. While these rules aim to approximate the wishes of the average person, they arguably have not kept pace with cultural norms, societal changes, and evolving concepts of “family.”

“To make a valid will, it is usually necessary to comply with formal requirements, including that the will must be in writing, signed and witnessed by two independent witnesses.

“COVID-related isolation and social distancing has meant that the physical presence requirement to make a valid will can be difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill. This has prompted the introduction of emergency responses in New Wales South, ACT, Victoria and Queensland to enable unprecedented remote audio-visual testimony of wills via online platforms.

“There is now an urgent need to critically consider whether these emergency measures should become permanent.”

Co-author, behavioral economist Dr Stephen Whyte, researcher and deputy director of the BEST Center, said the study fills a gap in providing evidence on when and how Australians go about doing their will.

“We found that members of the legal profession tend to prefer the execution of a will at a much younger age than members of the public – 29 versus 47,” Dr Whyte said.

“There is very little behavioral research on will behavior in Australia. There is an urgent need to understand preferences and attitudes so that policy makers and law reformers can determine whether there is a need to remove so many barriers real and perceived to a valid will as possible.”

“We can’t just assume that access is the problem and technology is the solution.”

Co-author Associate Professor Kelly Purser, who co-directs the Planning for Healthy Aging program housed within ACHLR, said research has shown that people who have already engaged in the process of Will writers tend to want much higher levels of input from estate planning lawyers. than those who have never made a will.

“It also revealed that among both groups, preferences on these issues appear to be largely insensitive to the stated advantages or disadvantages of remotely executed wills,” Professor Purser said.

“The potential role of ‘technology’ in the drafting of wills, such as online witnessing of wills, is indeed a significant potential reform of the law in Australia, which requires wide consultation with relevant stakeholders, building on on a rigorous evidence base.

“There are arguments both for and against the use of various technologies in the drafting of wills, but it is misleading to assume that the adoption of technology will itself facilitate the drafting of valid wills.

“There has been a growth in the number of companies offering semi-personalized wills created by ‘smart’ technology, while the United States Uniform Law Commission has accelerated the development of model legislation that could limit the influence of for-profit companies in this space.”

Dr Whyte said research findings can also play a role in the future design, development and effective delivery of community education, including curriculum development and public advertising by governments and legal professionals providing will services.

More information:
Tina Cockburn et al, A behavioral economic analysis of will preferences: when to start and who should have the most input?, Minnesota Journal of International Law (2022). DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.4188130

Provided by Queensland University of Technology

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Sarah J. Greer