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Up to one million wills could count for nothing

It takes an average of 15 years from an error being made in a will, to the error being discovered

13 July 2015

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The ongoing case of Ebenezer Aregbesola has once again highlighted the problems that come with 'homemade' or discounted wills, and law firm Moore Blatch has warned that up to one million wills could count for nothing.

Mr Aregbesola used Barclays' £90 will-writing service in 2007 and died in January 2014. His daughter, Tinuoula Aregbesola, is now suing Barclays because she believes that the service has resulted in her missing out on a stake in a valuable London property.

The case was initially referred to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) which found that the bank was at fault and ordered Barclays to pay a 'reasonable settlement', but this was ignored. The case is now being heard at the High Court.

Carla Brown, a partner and head of wills, tax and trusts at law firm Moore Blatch, is warning consumers not to take unnecessary risks when there is (often) so much at stake.

'Will writing is a technical area, often underestimated, even by solicitors who don't write them regularly', she said.

'Most online services follow simple algorithms or formats that can often fail to accommodate complicated cases, and we would recommend that for anyone whose needs are even slightly complex that they seek advice from a specialist'.

Following a two-year investigation, the Legal Services Board advised the Lord Chancellor in 2013 that will-writing should be made a reserved legal activity; the government went against this advice and chose not to regulate will-writing.

Consequently the legal industry has been left to regulate will-writing on its own, and industry bodies such as STEP and the Law Society have developed quality schemes which law firms and will-writers can join.

Signatories to these schemes have to adhere to the will-writing guidance and standards set by the bodies, which acts as a form of regulation and is designed to maintain high standards.

However there is no obligation to join any of these schemes. Anyone can still claim to be a 'qualified' will-writer as there is no real qualification process.

Moore Blatch says that it takes an average of 15 years before an error in a will is discovered, which is often after the testator has died.

And due to the fact that online will-writing services have only come to the fore in the past 10 years many people could soon be in for an unwanted surprise, Carla Brown warns.

Brown said: 'Over the last decade up to one million people may have used self-completion paper or online wills, or companies that offer un-regulated will writing services.

She added: 'The issue is that there is a time lag before these wills need to be used and it is only now that more of these issues are coming to light'.

 

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Family Wills, Trusts & Probate