A lack of regulation means that using a will writing service carries certain risks…

In the BBC Panorama programme shown on 9th August the risks in using a will writing service were highlighted by presenter Vivian White.

Many people are under the false impression that a “will writer” is a solicitor, but unlike a solicitor they do not have to undergo any training and do not have insurance.  Further, will writers are not regulated by any organisation, which would ensure that they conducted their activities in the interests of the consumer and would provide some form of redress if things go wrong.  If they go out of business there is little that can be done.  Sometimes a Will cannot be found, even when charges have been made for storing it.

The lack of regulation has enabled many will writers to adopt high pressure selling techniques, which was illustrated in the programme, often offering Wills for a low or discounted fee and then recommending themselves to be appointed as executors.  Will writers also sell other services without full advice, such as transferring the home into a trust in an attempt to avoid care fees.  Terms and conditions can be poorly worded and difficult to understand.  In secret filming undertaken by the BBC for the programme, an elderly couple were not told the details of charges which were confusingly set out in writing but then taken away by the will writer.

An example of inadequate service was given.  Andrew Poole’s wife, Suzanne, used a will writer but the Will failed to include any provision for him, leaving the entire estate in trust for his step-daughters.  The will writers appeared to have failed to advise on his right to bring a claim against the estate for inadequate provision.  Caroline Bielanska, Chief Executive of Solicitors for the Elderly, appeared on the programme and expressed concern that a spouse had not been provided for.  She said “A specialist solicitor would have asked why a spouse had been left out, kept a detailed record of those reasons and advised of the high risk that the Will would be challenged.  Solicitors are in the business of giving legal advice, taking into account the client’s domestic and financial circumstances.  It does not appear that Suzanne Poole received any such advice”.

The fear of solicitors’ costs prompts some people to use will writers.  Joanne Smith, a member of Solicitors for the Elderly, commented “Solicitors are required to set out in writing the basis of their charges.  In many cases our Wills are undertaken for a fixed fee with a secure and free storage of Wills and other documents which can be retrieved easily when needed.  We are also happy to undertake home visits or to see clients in hospital”.

Joanne Smith continued “This programme highlights the potential for getting it wrong without full legal advice and the need for proper regulation of will writers.  It can be very costly to undo after you have gone and can leave your family in disarray when they have to pick up the pieces as problems generally only come to light after you have died”.

If you need any help with your Will, Lasting Power of Attorney or other associated advice then please contact Joanne Smith on 01494 450171 or email jps@blasermills.co.uk.  Joanne is a member of Solicitors for the Elderly and an experienced practitioner.