Destruction of post-1858 Wills of England and Wales proposed


12 January 2024
On 15 December the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) issued a consultation document on the storage and retention of original will documents. Sign the petition to avert the possible destruction of this historic collection.

The MOJ proposal is to digitise the post-1858 wills collection of England and Wales, and then to destroy the originals, citing heavy storage costs as the driver for this move. The 32-page consultation document, issued on 15 December, on the storage and retention of original will documents may be read here.

The ‘To’ section of the document reads: ‘This Consultation Paper is aimed at anyone with an interest in the issue of the storage and retention of wills and is likely to be of particular interest to the legal profession.’ In what many family history researchers may see as a massive oversight, no mention of family history or genealogy is made throughout the document. Indeed the list of organisations (see pp5-6 of the consultation paper) to which the consultation paper has been sent directly include numerous legal organisations, The National Archives, the Royal Historical Society and the British Association for Local History – but no genealogy organisations.
The matter has raised extreme concern among the genealogy community, however. Family historians are all too keenly aware that digitisation of a collection does not render the originals unnecessary, as well as them having an intrinsic value as a collection of historic documents in their own right too. It is an all too familiar scenario that sections of an original collection are inadvertently omitted during the digitisation process, and, in particular circumstances, areas of the original pages may need be to be reviewed to ensure all marginal etc details are captured.

Page 14 of the consultation paper covers the topic of ‘Preserving the wills of famous people’, and indeed searching the document returns 12 results for ‘famous’, and it seems that the MOJ is open to the possibility of preserving the original wills of those deemed famous. The paper does not cite criteria for/definition of fame.

Read professional genealogist David Annal’s response to the recent MOJ news on his blog. David has also covered the topic in episode 21 of his Setting The Record Straight YouTube series, which may be viewed on his channel

Despite not directly reaching out to the genealogy community, point 14 of the consultation paper does state, regarding the list of organisations the MOJ have contacted: ‘However, this list is not meant to be exhaustive or exclusive and responses are welcomed from anyone with an interest in or views on the subject covered by this paper’. 

How to sign the #SaveOurWills petition

Genealogist AGRA member Richard Holt has started a petition to #SaveOurWills - and your vote will help the campaign. To sign the petition, click here.

How to respond to the consultation paper - your view matters

Organisations in the genealogy community will be making formal responses. David Annal is welcoming comments and points raised on the topic at his blog as he is working on a co-ordinated response. Family Tree will also be contributing a response. To make a response to the MOJ, please send your response to:

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Will Storage consultation
Postpoint 5.25
Ministry of Justice
102 Petty France
London SW1H 9AJ

Email: [email protected]

• The 10-week consulation period closes 23 February 2024, so they will need to receive your response by then.

Share your views

Family Tree would also be very interested to hear your views on the MOJ proposal. Please email [email protected]. Responses received by 21 January 2024 will be considered for publication in the March issue of Family Tree. We will also collate reader responses as part of the Family Tree formal response to the consultation.

The MoJ will be publishing their response, following the consultation exercise, on 31 May 2024.