Society responds to Ministry of Justice consultation on storage and retention of original will documents

5 February 2024

The Council of the Royal Historical Society has submitted a response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation paper on the ‘Storage and retention of original will documents’.

The Government’s proposal relates to the retention of wills as present-day and historical documents. HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) currently holds the original paper version of wills proved since 1858, following the Court of Probate Act (1857). The HMCTS has also created digital copies of wills granted probate in or after 2021.

The Government now proposes: i. a timescale of 25 years for the retention of the paper copies of wills digitised since 2021; and ii. digitisation of all wills dating from 1858, and the corresponding destruction of the original paper versions of these documents. Exceptions to the wholesale destruction of the post-1858 archive are proposed for wills of selected ‘famous people’, with Charles Darwin given as an example.

The Society’s response to the Ministry of Justice’s proposal is available here.

The RHS’s interest in this consultation relates to the importance of wills as historical documents and sources, both for professional historians and those undertaking personal research. The Society is extremely concerned by the proposal to destroy the paper archive of post-1858 wills, and by the Government’s claim that a digital copy is an equivalent document.

The deadline for responses to the consultation is Friday 23 February 2024. Responses and comments on the proposal are invited by the Ministry of Justice from individuals and organisations with experience of using wills as historical and legal documents.

A response to the consultation is expected from the Ministry by 31 May 2024.