A visit to the Netherlands’ Wills Registry in order to ascertain how it functions

The President of the Notaries Society of England and Wales, Andrew Johnson and myself (Anthony Northey) recently made a visit to the Netherlands in order to have meetings at the Notarial Foundation in Amsterdam and at The Royal Dutch Association of Civil-law Notaries/Koninklijke Notariȅle Beroepsorganisatie(KNB) headquarters in the Hague to review the system of wills registration in the Netherlands in order to assist in the drafting of the Notaries Society of England and Wales’ response to the Ministry of Justice ‘s recent Consultation Paper on Wills

A high proportion of Civil Law Jurisdictions have a proper official Wills’ Registry, whilst England and Wales and many other Common Law Jurisdictions do not have them. All that England and Wales has, apart from the unofficial Wills Registry recently set up by Certainty, a private organisation, is a Wills Depository, which is very little used and frankly is not of much use.

Although the Administration of Justice Act 1982, provided for the setting up of a proper official Wills Registry at the Principal Registry of Family Division of the High Court, the British Government have done nothing to implement this, despite the passage of 36 years..

After flying to Amsterdam we were met by Maarten Meijer, a Notary practising and living in Amsterdam, who is a member of the KNB and a former Vice President of the CAE. Maarten Meijer has always been a good friend to the Notaries Society of England and Wales.

He whisked us into the city for an afternoon visit to Notarial Foundation in Amsterdam and a meeting there with his brother, Daan Meijer, who is the Curator at that Notarial Foundation. The Notarial Foundation is effectively an interesting Notarial Museum/Library, holding much material about Notarial practice over the years, not only in the Netherlands, but also in many other countries, including England and Wales.
Daan Meijer showed us that in the KNB Museum/Library there are various texts regarding Notaries in England. One Dutch book there from the 18Th Century dedicated a whole chapter to the subject.

In the evening, we were very generously and superbly entertained by Maarten Meijer and his wife, Gonny, with drinks at their house, abutting one of the canals in the centre of Amsterdam, followed by a trip around the city in Maarten Meijer’s boat and dinner at a club abutting one of the other canals.

Our visit to the KNB’s Headquarters and to the Wills Registry run by the KNB
During the morning of the next day, Maarten Meijer took us to the KNB’s Headquarters in the Hague.
We were made exceptionally welcome there by Lineke Minkjan of the KNB and her colleagues.

During our visit to the KNB Headquarters, which hosts and runs the official Dutch Wills Register, the KNB provided us with much important information as to the method of recording wills in the Netherlands. The Registry works with just two full time staff, both recording details of wills and answering queries from Notaries and the general public. They deal with over 150 each day.

The system records the whereabouts (the locations) of Dutch wills, which have been drafted and attested by Notaries and the dates of all such wills.

Some years ago the KNB took over the management of the Register from a Government Department, which previously managed it. The system is self financing with a charge per will registration of € 8.75. The factual information that was provided demonstrated that an Electronic Wills Registry can be operated at a modest cost with little need for a large investment in terms of staff or finance. Such an Electronic Wills Registry be a more comprehensive official service could easily be provided by the Central Probate Registry of the Family Division in England and Wales and similar bodies in other Common Law countries, as officially operated systems., It could be similar to what is now provided informally and without any official authority by “Certainty” on a piecemeal basis in England and Wales.

Within the European Union there is a body called ENWRA/ARERT, which provides links between Civil Law Wills Registries, so that searches can be made in different countries in order to ascertain whether a Deceased person had made a will in another European Union country.
ENWRA stands for The European Network of Wills Registers Association, whilst ARERT stands for L’ Association du Réseau Européen des Registres Testamentaires.
England and Wales has not been eligible to join ENWRA/ARERT, as it does not have a Government run Wills Registry or a Wills Registry run by a Notarial Association. Anyway with Brexit, once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, it would no longer be eligible to be a member of ENWRA/ARERT. More details about ARERT/ENWRA can be found at

http://www.arert.eu/?lang=en

Below are 2 photographs taken at the KNB’s Headquarters (taken by Alice Boerrigter of the KNB).

From the left: standing Lineke Minkjan, Nynke Janssen, Sylvia Moedjijanto. Maarten Meijer all of the KNB, Andrew Johnson and Anthony Northey with Gerry Janssen of the KNB in the chair.

The KNB’s efficient online Wills Registry being demonstrated to (from left) Andrew Johnson, Anthony Northey and Maarten Meijer with Gerry Janssen seated.

The KNB took great interest in how wills are dealt with in England and Wales and in fact were somewhat surprised that in England and Wales, there is not an official Wills Registry.

They also took considerable interest in the Ministry of Justice/Law Commission Consultation Paper on Wills. In fact they took so much interest in that Consultation Paper on Wills that they arranged for ARERT/ENWRA to also put in a response to the Law Commission.

Anthony Northey (Council Member and President of the Notaries Society of England and Wales 2009/11)