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Fears over future of will-writing industry

Over regulation of will writers will drive up costs and lead to more consumers “doing it themselves”

6 October 2011

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Regulation of the will-writing industry could result in more consumers pursuing perilous DIY remedies as they seek to avoid rising costs. While plans to regulate will writers have been widely welcomed by industry insiders, there are fears that over-zealous regulation will lead to higher fees, which will writers will pass on to consumers, causing them to look for cheaper alternatives elsewhere.

Penny Wright, senior associate at Manches LLP, says: “No doubt solicitors will welcome increased regulation of will writing, but cost is a crucial factor for many consumers in deciding how to go about making a will. If excessive regulation results in professional will writers’ prices rising, this may drive more consumers towards self-help remedies, such as homemade wills. This undermines the object of increased regulation.”

Do-it-yourself wills often cause more challenges than those that are prepared by an expert. Wright explains: “Typically, problems with poorly drafted wills do not come to light until the testator has died, often many years later. The family of the deceased can be left with very limited redress if the will was prepared by an unregulated will writer or a DIY kit. Many consumers who thought they were saving money by using these methods will find that they are out of pocket in the long-term.”

The perils of do-it-yourself wills were recently highlighted by the Legal Services Board Consumer Panel, which conducted an investigation into the industry. The panel’s research predominantly took the form of a ‘mystery shopper’ exercise, where one in five wills was considered to be inadequate. The panel found that the poorest quality wills were those prepared by testators using do-it-yourself kits, either bought off-the-shelf or using online packages.

The Consumer Panel’s findings led to the Legal Services Board announcing in July that it was to launch an investigation into the industry. David Edmonds, chair of the Legal Services Board, confirmed that it would consult widely on the panel’s findings. This will include asking existing regulators to consider implementing changes immediately to improve standards.

Proposals for regulation include that all providers would have to demonstrate they are competent to write wills, follow a code of conduct and allow complaints to the Legal Ombudsman. It has been suggested that in the non-solicitor sector this would follow the framework of the existing scheme operated by the Institute of Professional Will Writers.

Will writers have been on the receiving end of much criticism over the past twelve months, which the industry is keen to address. “The negative publicity generated over the past year has caused difficulties for solicitors and other will writers, who are under increased pressure to demonstrate to potential clients that they are competent and honest,” explains Wright. “No doubt a reasonable level of regulation will be welcomed by solicitors, as it should weed out the rogue element and enable public faith in the profession to be restored.”

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Wills, Trusts & Probate