Will writing is currently an unregulated activity. There have been a lot of complaints in recent years of bad practice even among some solicitors. It’s REALLY important for you to have a will – and have a proper one at that. Here’s what I think about the proposals.
- Why does will writing need regulation?
- When will there be will regulation?
- Top tips for avoiding a wonky will
Considering that making a will is one of the most important things a person can do, it may come as a surprise to learn that anyone can set themselves up as a professional will writer.
1. Sloppy service
Shockingly, anyone can be a will writer. They don’t need training, qualifications or insurance to handle a client’s last will and testament, and work outside the scope of the government.
If this is news to you then you’re not alone. A survey commissioned by the Fellowship of Professional Will writers and Probate Practitioners in 2010 showed that 67 per cent of consumers wrongly believed all will writers are solicitors, and 82 per cent thought training and qualifications are required before taking cash for will writing.
The result? Thousands of cases where the will has been found to be defective and as a result not legally watertight — causing extra stress and upset to bereaved families during an already difficult time.
There’s a wide range of errors and oversights that can, and do, occur in poorly-written wills, which render them invalid. Examples include the will not being signed, not including a date, or a failure to provide witnesses. More often than not, these issues only come to light after the loved one has died.
And if the company or practitioner writing the will doesn’t have adequate insurance, then there’s no protection if they go bust — the will could vanish with them — or recourse for the beneficiaries to claim damages.
This is what the Legal Services Board (LSB), which regulates lawyers says. The LSB found “consistent patterns of sloppiness, simple errors and poor communication” within the will-writing industry, both among lawyers and will writers alike, which led to “an unacceptable service for customers.” In a survey of 100 people, they found that 20 per cent had discovered “basic errors” in their wills. A handful were so badly written that they “could not be executed.”
Statutory regulation would improve standards across the board while providing a much-needed baseline of protection for consumers.
2. Cowboy cash grabs
In making its recommendations for regulation this April, the LSB said that “too often consumers were subjected to unfair sales practices.” Worse still, the organisation also uncovered “examples of fraud and deception” within the sector.
We’ve all seen the adverts for professionally-drafted wills at low, low prices. Though it’s not always the case, if it seems too good to be true, then it most likely is. Less reputable will-writing providers use low or discounted fees as a lure to suck in the unwary, especially vulnerable members of society such as the elderly or low-income families.
Once the salesman has their foot in the door, they’ll apply high-pressure selling techniques to get a signature there and then. The true costs of a ‘cheap deal’ can stack up to hundreds of pounds in additional services, sold without full advice at inflated prices.
Find out more about how to get a proper will done in our will-writing article.
Last year the LSB put forward plans to make will writing a “reserved activity” for the first time. However these proposals were rejected by the government in 2013.
The LSB recommended that anyone wanting to go into the will-writing businesses would first have to be approved, and the practice of will writing would become regulated in the same way as many other legal services such as divorce, family law and personal injury.
There’s no doubt that having a brand new regulatory body responsible solely for the supervision and enforcement of a specific set of standards, as is being called for, would help take the risk and fear out of will making.
However the government does not think that regulation is the best solution to the problem. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “To ensure that the costs/burdens of increased regulation are not imposed unnecessarily, further efforts should be made to see if [alternative] measures can be made more effective before resorting to reservation.”
In response to the LSB’s report, the Law Society has announced that it is to launch a will-writing quality scheme for members of the legal profession.
And with Law Society figures showing that a whopping 72 per cent of people do not have a will at all, the calls for reform can only boost public awareness of the importance of making a will, and having it done properly.
After all, no-one can avoid the inevitable, but we can all avoid the traps and pitfalls of will writing with the right guidance.
It’s a nasty thing to lose a close friend or family member but it makes it so much easier on the ones left behind if there’s a clear will and funeral directions to follow.
I know this from personal experience, as recently my lovely Auntie Pam passed on. But good for my Auntie Pam when it came to her will — she was quite specific in her will about what she wanted us to do with her money and possessions and we also had a fairly complete list of her accounts, pensions and so on.
The only problem we had was with a codicil she left which, it turns out, was not legally binding as it had not been witnessed properly. It’s a shame because what was in the codicil was clearly what she wanted at the end but we had to comply with the original will. So it’s important to get codicils right as well as the wills themselves!
The right preparations take out so much of the headache of dealing with the affairs of someone you love and miss.
1. Do your background research. There are two types of will providers to choose from — solicitors and will writers — but anyone can provide the service irrespective of background or qualifications. Check that your will provider has suitable experience and training before going ahead and, with will writers, ensure they are members of a recognised professional body such as the Institute of Professional Willwriters.
2. Check your will provider has professional indemnity insurance. This insurance is necessary to compensate your beneficiaries if a mistake is made with your will. It is mandatory for all solicitors to have this insurance.
3. Find out the full costs before signing on the dotted line. Bargain-basement wills usually have hidden fees attached so ask to see the full price list first. Compare prices between providers (including the VAT) as additional services can be extortionately priced to claw back profit. Never feel pressurized to go with a provider straight away or bow to the hard sell. Anything below £100 for a single person or £150 for a couple (excluding VAT) should be taken with a pinch of salt. If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.
4. Protect your right to cold feet. Always ask if you can change your mind about going ahead with a will provider without being held liable for costs. If you see a salesman in your home, you’re legally entitled to a seven-day cooling-off period. They may pressurise you to waive this right but this should set alarm bells ringing. Writing a will is too important to be rushed through.
5. Pay now, regret later? If the will provider asks to be paid for any service before it’s completed, find out what protection is in place if they subsequently fail to deliver the service, deliver it late or to an unsatisfactory standard. If things do go wrong then know who you can turn to. With solicitors, for example, you can refer the matter to the Legal Ombudsman for independent arbitration.
6. Don’t pay upfront. When making your will, never pay a fee up front for someone to provide assistance administering your estate after your death. There’s no guarantee they’ll still be in business, and able to carry out the work, when you’re no longer around.
7. Be careful about executors. Though will providers may try to talk you into appointing them as the executor of your will, for an additional fee, this isn’t always necessary. You can appoint family or friends to administer your estate on your behalf. If it becomes too complex then they can always seeks the assistance of a professional and agree fees then.
8. Avoid DIY disasters. There’s nothing stopping you from making your will yourself. You can even buy a will pack from places such as WHSmith and Amazon, or from sites such as diy-wills.co.uk (for £19.95). However, these do-it-yourself kits are not always entirely accurate and if you make a mistake, there could be costly legal fees to pay after you die. It’s always advisable to seek professional guidance. The Law Society can put you in touch with specialist solicitors.