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Finnish lawyers propose setting up official register for wills

The Finnish Bar Association says an official repository for last will and testaments would reduce inheritance disputes.

Testamentti ja mustekynä.
Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

The interest group of lawyers known as the Finnish Bar Association has put out a call to establish a nationwide register for last will and testaments. The group says establishment of an official network of repositories run by Finnish authorities would cut back on inheritance disputes and improve the legal protections of deceased persons.

There is currently no standardized procedure for storing such documents in Finland.

"It is ultimately up to chance and, to some extent the honesty of the heirs, to produce the will and fulfil the last wishes of the deceased," says deputy chair of the Finnish Bar Association Hanna Räihä-Mäntyharju, a lawyer specializing in family and inheritance law.

The lawyers propose the system could be administered by Finland's nine existing local register offices. Submission of the last will and testaments to the register would be carried out on a volunteer basis.

Tricky questions need answers

The idea was proposed once before in Finland, in 2004. During the last parliamentary session, two MPs submitted a written request to Justice Minister Antti Häkkänen to explore the possibility once again.

Häkkänen said at the time that many issues would have to be settled before the proposal could move forward, such as the question of whether last will and testaments in the register would be considered more valid than other, perhaps updated versions that might be turn up after a person dies.

"For example, if someone draws up an emergency will just before his or her death, there's a good chance it would never be filed in the register," Häkkänen said.

Justice ministry department head Antti Leinonen comments that no major drawbacks have been noted that would necessitate making changes to the current system.

"It would be quite unfortunate if the authors of last will and testaments had to worry about getting official stamps and re-submitting the documents to a register every time they wish to make changes or tweaks," he says.

Register would make them easy to find

Last wills and testaments are currently found in many places in Finland – in safety deposit boxes, lawyer's offices, and under mattresses. Sometimes news that the author has died never reaches the storage location and papers are forgotten.

"It's a good idea to tell someone that you've drawn up a will and inform them about where it is kept. There's no need to reveal anything about its content," says the Bar Association's Räihä-Mäntyharju.

She adds that the benefit of an official register will increase as the population grows older and memory disorders become more common.

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