In response to recommendations by the Legal Services Consumer Panel that will-writing services should be regulated, the Legal Services Board has launched a statutory investigation into will writing, probate and estate administration markets following damning evidence of sharp sales practice, poor quality wills and lost wills where companies disappear without trace.
The panel was established in 2007 to give independent advice to the Legal Services Board and is responsible for overseeing the regulation of lawyers in England and Wales. It says all providers would have to follow a code of conduct, show they are competent to write wills, and allow complaints to the Legal Ombudsman.
In a mystery shopping exercise conducted by the panel, expert assessors failed one in five wills prepared by both unregulated will-writing companies and solicitors.
The panel has called for the Office of Fair Trading to lead an enforcement campaign targeted at the minority of will-writing companies perpetuating the worst sales practices such as pressure selling and exorbitant prices. It has also called for training standards for solicitors to be raised.
Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel Dr Dianne Hayter, said: “A will may have huge personal and financial consequences for those who we care about most. It’s vital that advisers do a competent job, especially since any defects are unlikely to be discovered until it’s too late to fix them.
“The panel was shocked by the poor quality of wills in the mystery shopping. Although the sample was small, will-writing companies and solicitors were equally culpable, pointing to the need for tighter controls across the sector. Only by requiring all providers to be regulated and to demonstrate their competence can consumers enjoy peace of mind that their final wishes will be respected whoever prepares their will.
“Most people were happy with the service they got from will-writers, but there is evidence that a rogue minority is pressuring people to buy services they do not need and charging excessive prices.”
The Legal Services Board said in a statement: “The panel’s report highlighted many problems faced by consumers when buying a will and the qualitative research demonstrated that too many wills, written by both solicitors and unregulated will-writers, failed to reflect what the client intended and made other basic errors. The board has therefore concluded that it should begin a formal statutory investigation to identify what changes there may need to be to regulation in these three markets.”
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