Consumers risk losing everything if they allow unqualified and unregulated Will writers to have full control of their estate’s assets, says former Law Society President John Wotton, who recently spoke out on the matter. A recent announcement that the Legal Services Board has agreed to proposals to bring Will writing and estate administration services within the scope of legal services regulation has met with approval by the industry. The proposals would, for the first time, see these services brought within the list of ‘reserved activities’ and all those who provide these services will be regulated.
“The Law Society has been running a campaign to warn consumers of the dangers of using Will writers who are not properly qualified. As a part of this the Society is pleased that the Legal Services Board has listened to our concerns and have identified the risks with regards to using an unregulated and untrained will writer. It is good news for consumers that regulation and monitoring will be put in place to protect their interests and those of their beneficiaries and the assets in their estates.
“Anyone, particularly people looking to commit fraud, can currently 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. The estate administrator is responsible for important tasks which can be easily open to abuse and we are pleased that safeguards will be put in place to protect the testator’s estate from unscrupulous behaviour.”
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 end up with a product that is at best, containing error and at worst completely incorrect and unfit for purpose.
With an unregulated Will writer there is no safety net in place to protect a client’s Will and file, should the business cease 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.