Consumer panel calls for regulation of will-writers
A recent ‘mystery shopping’ exercise has found that over a fifth of Wills were regarded as failures on the grounds of quality. The Legal Services Board’s consumer panel is now calling for Will writing to become a reserved activity having assessed 101 Wills produced by both solicitors and non-solicitors.
As it stands, there are no restrictions on who may draft consumer Wills for payment. This free-for-all situation is clearly at odds with a complicated and affluent society where a Will may have huge personal and financial consequences, especially since defects are unlikely to be discovered before it is too late.
Where traditionally individuals would turn to their solicitor to prepare a Will on their behalf, safe in the knowledge that they are receiving a service provided by a qualified and regulated professional backed by professional insurers and a compensation scheme, consumers are becoming increasingly drawn to unqualified, unregulated and uninsured Will writers offering no means of redress should things go wrong!
The report identified four key areas of concern:
- Quality: one in four Wills were failed on quality grounds because they were not legally valid or failed to meet the client’s stated requirements;
- Sales practices: aggressive sales practices in the unregulated sector (which frequently take place in the home) play on people’s fears combined with a lack of transparency concerning costs;
- Storage: beneficiaries being unable to trace Wills due to providers becoming insolvent or disappearing without trace;
- Rogue minority: a rogue element in the unregulated sector which is engaged in very aggressive selling, gross overcharging and fraud.
The report highlights the need for standards to be raised across the board in the quality of Will-writing by both solicitors and non-solicitors alike. All providers should be obliged to satisfy regulators that they are competent, follow a code of conduct and allow complaints to the Legal Ombudsman.
The adoption of the code of practice employed by the Institute of Professional Will writers has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading and offers key protection to consumers by requiring pre-entrance checks on technical competence, increased business probity and stronger disclosure rules around the cross-selling of services.
Whilst it is clear that there is an urgent need for tighter controls across the sector, until those controls are implemented consumers would be well advised to think twice before being drawn to unqualified, unregulated and uninsured will-writing companies.