UK: Thousand Ripped Off By Unregulated Will Writers - Ensure You're Not One Of Them

Last Updated: 23 August 2011
Article by Claire Carberry

Thousands of people are being ripped off by companies providing unregulated services such as will writing, a report issued last month highlighted. The report, produced by the Legal Ombudsman, who have formal powers to resolve complaints about lawyers, recommended that the provision of Will-writing services should be regulated.

In the report, Chief Ombudsman for England and Wales Adam Sampson said the most complaints he saw concerned residential conveyancing, employment advice, family law and wills.

"The service which crops up a lot is will writing. It's a service carried out often by will-writing firms who aren't regulated," said Mr Sampson.

"Because of this, customers are left with little means of redress when things go wrong."

Consumer organisations such as Which? said that often legal services offered via the internet had posed serious dangers for consumers. Many unregulated providers are not insured, and do not provide help for their clients when things go wrong. Individual cases brought to light from Legal Ombudsman research have highlighted consumers struggles to get copies of their will, make further queries concerning the work done, or receive any compensation when a will writing company fails.

Case Studies

The Law Society and the Legal Services Consumer Panel have issued information which sets out some case studies on unregulated will writers, with two examples cases included below. For more case studies, please visit www.lawsociety.org.uk.

Mrs P alleges that a will writing company prepared a will for her aunt that included a gift of £5,000 to itself, named itself as Executor and tried forcefully to demand Power of Attorney from other family executors. The company falsely claimed that it was regulated by The Law Society. On contacting the will writing company's trade association the association offered to administer the estate itself. Mrs P alleges that the estate was mismanaged including double counting of a funeral bill in the accounts and undervaluation of the estate by £130,000 in avoid to avoid paying inheritance tax – HMRC is investigating this.

Mr B worked as manager of a team in a local council in London that dealt with the financial and legal affairs of persons who had dementia and mental health problems. He regularly encountered wills that had been drawn up by unregulated willwriters (when the testator did not have dementia) that were inappropriate and included technical mistakes, for example the will was not properly signed or witnessed. In a number of cases the trouble and expense of applying to the Court of Protection in order to make a statutory will was required to correct the errors.

Top tips for making a will

DMH Stallard Wills team have put together a three point plan to make sure you make the right decisions to ensure your estate is distributed according to your wishes.

1 Reason to choose a qualified solicitor

There are two sorts of providers in the wills market place – solicitors and Will writers. DMH Stallard Solicitors, as other solicitors, are regulated, whereas Will writers are provided with the Will Writers Code or Practice, which provides guidance only.

As described above, if you have issues with the service you receive, but have chosen a solicitor, you can refer matters to the Legal Ombudsman. Put simply, making a legally valid Will is the only effective way to ensure that you protect those that you care about, and potentially saves your loved ones the time, stress and additional expense of trying to sort out your affairs.

2 Good to be true?

Be aware that low cost Wills and prices quoted for a basic will may not always be the bargain that they first seem.

It is most likely that the offer will be too good to be true, and there will be hidden costs, or a incomplete or poorly drafted will. Some will writers make money from charging their clients annual storage fees and down payments towards probate costs, unlike our Wills team. Cases highlighted by the Legal Ombudsman focus on how mistakes made by will writers, including a will which wasn't signed by a testator although witnessed, meant that the individuals estate was intestate. A will should be tailored to your individual situation, taking into account many different factors, in order to get the most benefit from your estate.

3 for 2?

Make sure that you find out about the related services your solicitor can provide for you. Other services, such as creating a trust, may save you from paying unnecessary taxes and charges, depending on your situation.

There have been stories of wealthy individuals who have had a simple will drawn up by will writers, never discussing trusts and tax issues. If they had instructed a solicitor, it would be likely that inheritance tax payments could have been reduced with the right planning and advice. Estate planning requires both expert legal skills and a close knowledge of your family and business arrangements. Our team call upon their expertise in areas such as Will drafting, varying an inheritance, Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs), trust creation/administration, and inheritance tax and capital gains tax mitigation, according to your individual situation. For this reason, we take the time to get to know you, to understand the issues that matter and to work closely with you in planning for your family's futures.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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