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More clarity needed before will writing can be regulated, LSB says

22 September 2010

Establishing the existence of widespread malpractice among will-writing companies is a prerequisite to introducing specific regulation of the sector, the Legal Services Board has said.

Launching an investigation into the will-writing services industry, the board’s consumer panel has today taken the first step in response to reports that skill levels and standards at some unregulated will writers fell below that expected of professional services companies.

The investigation follows a workshop held at the LSB last month and first reported on solicitorsjournal.com on 16 August (‘LSB consumer panel to investigate regulation of will writing’) where participants – including representatives of the unregulated sector of the market – acknowledged the significance of the issue.

But the board sought to distance itself from reports in the media portraying malpractice as widespread, pointing out that only seven per cent of people who make a will use a non-solicitor will writer.

Most recently a BBC Panorama programme highlighted abuses ranging from drafting errors and lost wills, to unethical pressure on testators to name the will-writing company as executor and outright fraud.

Such problems were known but the extent to which they were common wasn’t, according to the panel.

“The case for regulation will writers may rest on whether there are abuses across the industry or just a few rogues who can be dealt with under existing laws,” said the panel’s chair, Dianne Hayter. “Finding evidence of badly written wills and underhand sales practices will be crucial to establishing this.”

She continued: “Regulation could result in less choice and higher prices for consumers, so the panel will only recommend this step if there is convincing evidence that will-writing businesses are failing consumers.”

One of the main obstacles to drawing up a true picture of the situation, the panel said, was that problems with the quality of a will were usually only discovered after the death of the testator.

The call for evidence is one of several sources the panel intends to consider, which will also include mystery shoppers, interviews with consumers and interviews with providers.

The consultation is open until 15 December and evidence may be submitted at www.legalservicesconsumerpanel.org.uk.

Will writing statistics

  • 88 per cent of people making a will use a solicitor; seven per cent use professional will writers.
  • 47 per cent of people have a will today, though 83 per cent make a will by the time they die.
  • 43 per cent appoint the solicitor or will writer who prepared the will as executor.

Categorised in:

Regulators Costs Wills, Trusts & Probate