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STEP warns the public against ‘cowboy will’ promises and unqualified, incompetent will writers

STEP warns the public against ‘cowboy will’ promises and unqualified, incompetent will writers


Dishonest, unqualified and incompetent will writers are costing people millions in extra tax, causing significant distress and leaving grieving families to deal with the financial and emotional consequences of bad advice.

STEP, the professional body for inheritance advisors, is publishing a report today, Wills and Trusts: Buyer Beware: uncovering the impact of unqualified advisors in the estate planning sector.

It draws on the experience of 329 of STEP’s members, mainly in England and Wales. They draft wills and regularly advise clients that have previously been given bad will advice. The report found that:

  • 79% have come across cases of wills with errors.
  • Over half (54%) highlighted their concerns about rogue firms making false claims about wills leading to increased tax bills.
  • The majority of respondents (63%) have come across cases where a will writing company has quoted a fee for writing a will but then charged additional costs not covered within the terms of business.
  • Just over half (54%) have come across firms making false claims about the wills they are selling to clients. Of those, 71 people mentioned that advisors had wrongly told their clients that they could avoid care home fees by putting their home and other assets into a trust.
  • A third of respondents had come across cases where incompetence has led to significant tax bills, with examples of tax charges in many instances in the tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds and in a few cases up to £2 million.

Further independent* research commissioned by STEP, which surveyed 2,000 members of the public in the UK aged 18 and over, found that:

  • 49% of those surveyed do not have a will, increasing to 65% among people aged 45-54.
  • Of the 51% who have a will:
    • 55% got their will from a qualified solicitor/will writer.
    • 22% got a low cost will online (only 3% of people checked that the online will writer was qualified) – increasing to 32% of people aged 18-24.
    • 22% wrote their own DIY will – increasing to 34% of people aged 18-24. 

Sarah Manuel, Head of Professional Standards at STEP: ‘These findings are sadly not surprising. There is no regulation of will writing in England and Wales. Anyone can set themselves up as a will writer leaving unsuspecting members of the public without protection. All too often, people don’t realise that they have been a victim of rogue will advice until it is too late for themselves and their families.

‘STEP members have reported many examples of rogue firms and cowboy will writers charging hidden fees and even appointing themselves as executors to exploit vulnerable clients for financial gain.

‘False promises about avoiding care home fees and misleading advertising are commonplace. Far too many people are lured into thinking getting a free or cheap will online will save them money when this is not always the case. Our members have seen cases where unscrupulous will writers have added in thousands of pounds worth of hidden charges, and people have been left with huge tax bills.’

Drafting a will can be complex and it is crucial that will writers are trained, and have a recognised specialist qualification with proven experience and insurance.

STEP has written to the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) as part of its investigation into the unregulated legal services market – putting the case forward for regulation alongside the need for high-quality training and greater recognition of specialist will qualifications.

STEP warns that in the absence of regulation, people need to think carefully about who to choose to write their will.