Consumers risk losing everything if they allow unqualified and unregulated will writers to have full control of their estate’s assets.
As part of its submission of evidence to the Legal Services Board, the Law Society has highlighted the potential risks during will writing, estate administration and probate activities.
Law Society President John Wotton said that the growth in online providers is making it harder for them to help consumers to identify reputable service providers.
“The Law Society has been running a campaign to warn consumers of the dangers of using will writers who are not properly qualified. The Society is calling for will writers to be regulated at the earliest opportunity to stop the exploitation of consumers.
“Anyone, particularly people looking to commit fraud, can create a website that looks professional and has testimonial recommendations. There is currently no regulation or monitoring in place to ensure that administrators do not misappropriate a client’s estate assets. There are significant risks involved in allowing unqualified and unregulated will writers to have full control of an estate’s assets. The estate administrator is responsible for important tasks which can be easily open to abuse and safeguards need to be put in place to protect the testator’s estate from unscrupulous behaviour.
“We believe that regulation of will writing is the only appropriate means of protecting the consumer and we support the recommendation that will writing should become a reserved activity.”
John Wotton went on to discuss the high number of cases where consumers have been mis-sold a type of trust (often called an ‘Asset Protection Trust’, or ‘Life Interest Trust’, or ‘Protective Property Trust’) that promises to protect a person’s home against possible future care home fees. Although trusts like this can provided much-needed peace of mind and protection, they represent a large amount of money and, if advised by an unregulated Will-provider, the consumer may not have received adequate advice as to its applicability, its appropriateness for their circumstances and its possible ineffectiveness for the purpose for which it was sold. There are frequently errors and mistakes which render the use of the product unfit for its purpose and potentially void.
This concern extends into succession planning, should the unregulated Will-provider become insolvent or close their business. There is no safety net in place to protect a client’s will and file, if an unregulated business ceases trading. By contrast, if a law firm closes down the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) can intervene and ensure the safety of all wills and files for clients of a solicitor.
The Law Society advises that people who are preparing a will should engage a solicitor who can make sure that the will is legally watertight and advise on complex financial issues such as inheritance tax and trusts planning. Solicitors are all trained and regulated and are required to have adequate insurance to protect the public.