Lifetime Planning and Wills specialist Justine Alford considers the current investigation into Will Writers by the Competition and Markets Authority.
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Complaints about costs, unfair terms and shoddy service have prompted the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) to investigate so-called Will Writers. And it’s not the first time these businesses have come under the spotlight.
In 2013, the government rejected the Legal Services Board’s recommendation that will-writing become a reserved legal activity like conveyancing. That was despite then-Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling conceding the evidence indicated there was “consumer detriment in the will-writing market” and that reservation could address it.
What is a Will Writer?
The law allows anyone to write Wills, irrespective of their level of training and experience. If you instruct a solicitor, their legal education does not stop when they qualify. Instead, solicitors must receive ongoing legal training each year as a condition of being able to continue in practice. In addition, the Solicitors Regulation Authority tightly regulate solicitors and can fine them, suspend them, or strike them off for poor conduct. And crucially, solicitors carry compulsory indemnity insurance to compensate you should they make a mistake.
Unqualified Will Writers are not regulated. Some subscribe to voluntary bodies providing a veneer of respectability, but such organisations are not regulators. Among the most common complaints about Will Writers are:
- Problematic Wills not accurately reflecting a person’s wishes, and potentially leading to tax complications and tying up an estate with unnecessary trusts. Unhappy beneficiaries often means a costly dispute. Such poor advice and drafting reflects inadequate or even no training and experience.
- Hidden charges. One tactic often employed by Will Writers is offering cheap or even free Wills to draw people in. We have all seen such advertisements online, in local newspapers, and on our social media feeds. But once they hook you, myriad hidden charges and extras materialise. We have seen examples where vulnerable people have paid out thousands of pounds.
- Unfair terms. Among the unfair terms we see is Will Writers automatically appointing themselves executors of the Will and subsequently taking large and unjustified sums from the estate as payment for their services.
- Cross-selling. Many Will Writers generate handsome additional commission income from cross-selling other products such as funeral plans, life insurance and pensions. People often complain of hard-selling tactics.
- Insolvency. We have seen Will Writing services ceasing to trade, sometimes without warning. In the past, we have been instructed by clients of such firms who are struggling to obtain their Wills and other documents.
What will the CMA do?
A Will has been described as the largest cheque you ever write, guiding what happens to everything you own at your death. Taking expert advice can:
- save your estate thousands of pounds in Inheritance Tax;
- substantially reduce the possibility of costly disputes; and
- provide you with the peace of mind that you have done everything possible to secure your loved ones’ future.
What the CMA will do is almost certainly not what they should do. We firmly believe that Will writing should be a regulated legal service. That does not mean banning Will Writers but simply requiring them to adhere to the same strict rules and requirements as solicitors, including training, disciplinary measures, and compulsory indemnity insurance.
But as recently as 2020, the CMA offered a strong hint as to its current thinking when it said it would be “cautious about extending reservation except where there is a clear justification to do so given its potential impact on competition and cost”.