Wills drafted by solicitors and banks attacked

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The Independent Online
ONE IN five wills drawn up by professionals is sloppy and incompetent, according to a survey published today. The professionals included solicitors, banks and specialist will-writing companies.

Which? magazine, which commissioned the survey, also advises people never to appoint a bank or solicitor as an executor unless this is unavoidable. They are likely, it says, to abuse their position - acting 'incompetently or worse', charging excessive fees and taking years to act.

Among errors revealed in the survey are a badly-drafted will which would have left bereaved children without a guardian and another which would have forced the unintended sale of a house.

One solicitor told a customer she had a free choice of executor, but then named his own firm in the will to administer her estate. According to Which?, this came close to professional misconduct.

Of 50 professional will-writers, specialist will-writing firms were the worst: most of the wills they wrote were classed as poor. Comments by experts consulted by the magazine ranged from 'confused and misconceived' to 'totally inadequate - a disaster'. Other problems included long delays, 'major errors and omissions', and companies disappearing with clients' money without having drafted a will.

The magazine calls for a review of such companies, which are 'completely unregulated' and provide a loophole for unscrupulous operators. No qualifications are needed, there are no channels for complaint and no protection if a firm goes bankrupt. However, of 31 wills drafted by solicitors, five were poor, 20 reasonable and only six good. The passing of exams, Which? says, 'does not appear to be a guarantee of competence'. Expert comment on wills drafted by solicitors ranged from 'fairly sloppy' to the 'writer . . . does not understand her own draft'.

Graeme Jacobs, Which? money editor, said consumers should be able to count on professionals for such an essential service. 'Sadly some professionals fell far short of the ideal. Errors and omissions were rife and incompetence all too frequent.'

More than 6 out of 10 people have not made a will, effectively donating pounds 750m each year to the Treasury in avoidable inheritance tax.

The magazine says controls on banks and solicitors acting as executors are needed urgently. One solicitors' firm made 'a number of serious errors' but then charged pounds 8,328 in fees. Barclays Bank lost a will, found it after the funeral - which had not been in accordance with the will's provisions - and then refused recompense and renounced the executorship, saying it would have charged up to pounds 700 for administering a simple estate of less than pounds 30,000.

'The role of executor gives (banks and solicitors) great power with little . . . accountability, Which? adds. 'Given the profits that banks derive from wills, perhaps it's not surprising they have so far refused to change their ways.'

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