Using unregulated will-writers instead of solicitors?
Abbie Kingdon 08-09-2023
In July 2023, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) watchdog started an investigation into will-writers. The purpose of the CMA's investigation was to check whether will-writers were complying with consumer protection laws and focused upon both will writing services and so called "pre paid probate plans". The CMA was particularly interested in investigation misleading will-writers' adverts about their fees as (although people may only make a will a few times in their life) the consequences of a will being wrong can be devastating for loved ones.
As part of its investigation, the CMA wrote to a number of law firms, to find out how will-writers were performing.
Is a will-writer the same as a solicitor?
In short, no. Will-writers can often have no legal qualifications whatsoever and they are entirely unregulated. This means that is something goes wrong (as it often does when will-writers are not legal experts), there is no regulatory body to complain to.
On the other hand, solicitors are properly legally qualified. Their work is regulated by the Solicitors' Regulation Authority. Solicitors also they have to carry professional indemnity insurance. This means that if something goes wrong with the will, you would be able to make a complaint and claim compensation.
What is a pre paid probate plan?
Pre-paid probate plans are a relatively new development in the private client market. They involve people paying up front, before they have passed away, for the cost of administering their estate after they have died.
The CMA, was concerned that these plans are at best unnecessary and at work, entirely inadequate. There was also concern that older people were being subject to high pressure sales tactics to buy into these plans.
Solicitors will not generally offer a pre paid probate plan, as they are simply not needed.
What did the CMA say about will-writers?
The CMA report included examples of very poor service provided to clients by unregulated will-writers. The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) has highlighted some of these as follows:
- excessive fees for wills running into thousands of pounds, when most solicitors charge just a few hundred pounds for standard wills;
- advertising very low "headline" fees and then adding on extras for standard work (such as when there is more than one executor,
- payment of annual storage fees for wills when most solicitors would make no charge at all for this service;
- demanding payment to release a will after someone has died, which most solicitors would not do;
- making untrue claims about care home fees;
- poor and incompetent work by will-writers triggering the unnecessary payment of tax bills (including one case where a client was advised to set up a lifetime trust which cost her estate an unnecessary £45k)
The head of professional standards at STEP said: "people don’t realise that they have been a victim of rogue will advice until it is too late for themselves and their families". She went on to say that it should be mandatory for will-writers to be properly trained, to hold recognised qualifications, and to carry insurance. At the moment, none of this is necessary for someone to work as a will-writer.
A decade has now passed since calls by the Legal Services Board for will-writing to become a reserved activity were rejected by the government.
Who should I get to draft my will?
The Law Society, the Legal Services Board, the Society of Trust Estate Practitioners, and most lawyers, agree that advice should only be sought from properly legally trained solicitor, when clients want to draft a will. If you are the victim of a rogue will-writer, there is very little you can do, and the outcome for your family can be life-changing.
If you have used a will-writer in the past, Samuels Solicitors will check your will for free, to make sure it is valid and to tell you whether you need to make any changes.
If you want to get your existing will checked for free, or if you need to get a will drafted, one of our expert team of highly qualified lawyers will be happy to speak to you. Contact us to find out how we can help.