RegulationMay 1 2013

Why will writing must stay alive

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BySteve Jenkins

I feel that the greatest consumer detriment exposed by the investigation carried out by the board is that one in four wills, including those written by regulated solicitors, are worthless because they fail to achieve what was intended by the testator.

This represents tens of thousands of people wasting millions of pounds every year in legal fees, mostly paid to solicitor firms. While I welcome higher standards and consumer protection through the Legal Ombudsman, I question if will writing has to become a reserved activity, especially when you consider the ministry of justice’s reluctance to add more regulatory burdens for businesses.

I accept that there have been some isolated problems within the independent will-writing industry, but these were mostly confined to small companies, often sole traders. Most large organisations in the sector operate professionally and ethically, and provide a service which sections of the public clearly want and value. Existing laws, regulations, and codes of practice provide a strong framework of protection against many of the excesses identified, whether originating in the independent sector or among solicitors, in particular the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

For larger companies and for members of the two self-regulatory organisations, the Institute of Professional Will Writers and the Society of Will Writers, high standards are maintained through continual professional development with training provided by organisations such as the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.

The issues raised by the board’s investigation go wider and deeper than the issues raised by those who have been lobbying for more restrictions. The investigation revealed some significant issues with the will-writing market that touche on all corners of the market – including, of course, solicitors who continue to write the great majority of wills.

It is widely accepted that not enough people in the UK have wills and that considerable consumer detriment arises when people die intestate so there appears to be a strong case to improve the situation.

The Cost of Dying, a report by Sun Life Direct, suggested that a quarter of adults will not have written a will before they die. A survey in October 2010 by research group suggested 30m adults in the UK do not have a will. This includes almost 90 per cent of people aged less than 35, and two-thirds of those aged between 35 and 54, despite 92 per cent having a firm idea of where they would like their money to go.

Given these disappointing figures, I believe the starting point in any consideration of the future shape of the market should be a focus on what will help ensure that more, not fewer, wills are written.