The Law Commission has announced that it will be reviewing the Wills Act 1837 at the start of 2015, with its report, final recommendations and a draft bill expected by early 2018.

The commission has stated that it will focus on four main areas identified for reform: testamentary capacity, the formalities for a valid will, the rectification of wills; and mutual wills.

The current law for the validity and interpretation of wills is based on the 1837 act. The commission has expressed concern that social, technological and medical advancements have not been reflected in the statute, and as such has discouraged members of the public from making wills. This, combined with the increased risk of people’s wishes not being given effect after their death, can lead to expensive and lengthy litigation.

Professor Elizabeth Cooke, commissioner with responsibility for property, family and trust law, said: “Reform in this area of law will provide greater certainty and protection both for those making wills and those who stand to benefit from them. Better, up-to-date law should encourage more people to make arrangements for when they die, and avoid the need for expensive litigation, which can divide families and cause great distress.”

Currently, if a person dies without having made a will, the rules on intestacy apply, which the Law Commission has described as “a blunt instrument that cannot replace the expression of a person’s own wishes”. Cohabitants and charities cannot benefit under the rules of intestacy; only married couples, civil partners, children and close relatives can inherit the estate.