Time to claw back on cowboy will writers

A cheap service could be costly in the long term. Chiara Cavaglieri and Julian Knight report

Unregulated will writers are operating without training or insurance, exposing the families of the deceased to costly mistakes and excessive fees, a leading legal body has warned.

Regulation to stop cowboy will writers in their tracks is long overdue and potential victims need better protection, say campaigners.

"Writing a will is one of the most important financial and personal decisions that someone will make, and the public should be protected accordingly. Currently there is no regulation surrounding will-writing and anyone is able to write a will, effectively holding themselves out as an expert," says Linda Lee, president of the Law Society, which launches a campaign tomorrow for regulation of will writers.

The problem with many specialist firms is that they offer an attractively cheap service, but lack relevant qualifications and skill. Moreover, while solicitors are obliged to take out insurance and are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, anyone can set themselves up as a will writer and without appropriate protection in place.

The very nature of drafting a will means that the most damaging problems will surface only after the testator has died, leaving loved ones to foot the bill.

One of the major risks is that will-writing firms often ensure that they have themselves appointed as sole or joint executor – the person responsible administering the estate when the customer dies – then charge way over the odds to the bereaved relatives. And when asked to step aside from acting as executor by relatives of the deceased, some will-writing firms refuse.

In many cases, a family member or friend is capable of handling the estate on their own and can be appointed as a lay executor, then choose to get some professional help at the time.

As we exclusively revealed, banks have been getting in on the act as well. Barclays, for example, offers will-writing services for free with its packaged current accounts and then levies fees of as much as 4.5 per cent of the estate as executors, working out to £22,500 on a £500,000 estate. In comparison, even the most experienced solicitors could do the same work for less than a quarter of that fee.

In an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) survey it was revealed that 43 per cent of people appointed the professional will writer or solicitor who wrote their will as executor, costing UK consumers an estimated £40m a year in fees. There is some good news for consumers after the OFT announced last week that Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and RBS Group have voluntarily agreed to review how they sell will-writing and executor services.

However, there are still considerable pitfalls to watch out for. In January, the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (Step) revealed that 75 per cent of its members encountered cases of incompetence or dishonesty in the will-writing market last year.

Members reported coming across hidden fees and significant additional tax bills due to a lack of skill. Even more of a concern is that a mammoth 63 per cent had direct experience of will-writing companies going bust and disappearing with their clients' wills.

Step has also voiced its concerns about will writers falsely representing themselves as being both regulated and insured, with some even posing as solicitors.

Unscrupulous firms have even persuaded clients that their existing wills are out of date and need rewriting when there is no need to do so, while others have charged for safe storage of wills only to keep them in an attic or shed.

The potential pitfalls from using shoddy will writers are wide reaching. Drafting errors such as basic typos, or jumbled wording due to a lack of legal knowledge, can render the will invalid. "Classic examples that we come across are basic muddling up of the addresses of beneficiaries, or naming a specific item or a property to pass to someone," says Sue Medder, a solicitor from law firm Withers who co-hosts the current BBC2 series You Can't Take It with You.

"If the address changes, that property isn't there when the deceased dies and the gift of the houses fails because it's not in the will."

For anyone with a complicated estate, which is increasingly likely with today's changing family life, it is advisable to use a qualified and regulated solicitor to draft the will, someone who can wade through any difficult legal areas, including any technical issues regarding tax, trusts and property rights.

"The testator might want to deal with several generations but these will writers may not have the proper legal training to cope with the complexities of modern family living," says Ms Medder.

Until a regulatory framework can be put in place, the best way forward for consumers is first to check that any firms or solicitors they use are members of a professional body such as Step or the Law Society.

David Harvey, Step's chief executive, says: "The cost of professional advice will normally be very modest relative to the potential cost and family distress that can be caused if, for example, a badly drafted will fails to do what was intended, or is contested."

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

    £15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

    Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

    £40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most