In this digital age, I have wondered for some time why important legal documents such as Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA) remain paper only documents which require wet signatures by the testator/donor and witnesses who must be physically present and observe the signatures being made.
As in many areas of law today it seems distinctly Victorian. The only surprise is that there is no longer a requirement for a quill pen and ink! It certainly makes the drafting of such documents long-winded and expensive.
Surely there has to be a better way, hasn’t there?
Well, there is hope at last. The government has finally sanctioned the sharing of the donor’s Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) electronically. Such documents still need to be created in paper form but mercifully the process of delivering LPAs to institutions has been shortened and modernised. It is a small step in the right direction in a legal world which appears unable or unwilling to keep pace with the rate of technological change that is all around us.
For the life of me, I do not understand how a signed and witnessed paper document can be more secure than an electronically signed one that is password protected. Am I missing something?
The Office of the Public Guardian has worked with the Department for Work and Pensions to develop the Use a Lasting Power of Attorney service. This blog explains how it works.
Once an LPA is registered, attorneys and donors will be sent an activation key.
They can create an account online at Use a lasting power of attorney and use the activation key to add LPAs to their account. A donor or attorney can then make an access code which they can give to organisations to view an online summary of an LPA.
Although attorneys and donors can register for the service, the service makes it quicker and easier for attorneys to use an LPA to support the donor.
During the pandemic, there has been an acceleration in the acceptance of electronic documents online because of the obvious problems caused by the various lockdowns we had in the UK. Now it is pretty much the norm for electronically signed documents to be accepted as routine. I have even signed business contracts online without so much as a signature, sometimes just a tick. Even the concept of an electronic signature strikes me as daft because it can be copied. Surely nothing more than a tick is needed?
If documents are delivered via encrypted email or better still via a portal and the documents are password protected it strikes me as safer and more secure than post and wet signatures. After all, post isn’t always 100% successfully delivered.
There are a lot of disadvantages with paper documents, especially important legal ones like Wills and LPAs. How do you prove that the document was actually signed in front of a witness who then signed it immediately afterwards? Wet signatures can easily be forged. Paper documents can be lost, destroyed, damaged in a flood or fire or simply stolen. The process of getting them signed and posted is slow and cumbersome. They cost money in terms of paper, ink and postage. It is expensive to store paper documents too.
On the other hand, electronic documents have all of the advantages that paper documents lack. They are secure, can be signed electronically, stored very cheaply, sent quickly by encrypted email, password-protected, date stamped electronically with an audit trail of times and dates, cheap and quick to produce. All in all far better than paper documents.
So let’s hope this heralds a long-overdue reform of legal documentation into the technological age of the 21st century and away from the current Dickensian regime. Change is well overdue. I welcome it. You know it makes sense.*
* The contents of this blog are for information purposes only and do not constitute individual advice. You should always seek professional advice from a specialist. All information is based on our current understanding of taxation, legislation and regulations in the current tax year. Any levels and bases of relief from taxation are subject to change. Tax treatment is based on individual circumstances and may be subject to change in the future. This blog is based on my own observations and opinions.