It has recently been confirmed that the Competition and Markets Authority (‘CMA’) are launching an investigation into unregulated legal services including Will Writing. The CMA has received complaints about these services and are concerned that they are acting in breach of consumer protection law.
Although many Wills are prepared by regulated solicitors, Will Writing itself is not a regulated service. This means that a person does not have to be legally qualified to offer Will Writing services. The CMA have confirmed that their three main concerns include:
- consumers being misled by advertising which offers an extremely low initial fee for advice but does not indicate that final costs can increase significantly
- the use of potentially unfair contract terms, such as exclusions of liability, failure to provide cancellation rights, and terms which automatically appoint the firm as executor (often for a fee)
- reports of pressure selling and coercion of vulnerable customers
Why a client may choose a Will Writer
A lot of clients are drawn to using a Will Writer as they are often seen as a cheaper and more cost effective option.
Another reason a client may use a Will Writer is for convenience. Will Writers often sell themselves on the basis that they can offer ‘over the phone’ appointments or will even attend to a client at home. However, most solicitors including ourselves also offer these services.
Concerns regarding Will writing
A major concern about using Will Writers is that although some choose to be regulated, there is no requirement to do so.
Another concern is regarding storage of the Will. A Will can often be held in storage for many years before it is needed. If a Will Writer were to close, there is a risk that the original Will could be lost. The original Will would be needed to obtain a grant of probate to distribute an estate so if the original cannot be found, it can cause difficulty and confusion. It could also mean that if no one else has any knowledge of that Will after the client has passed away, the estate could be distributed incorrectly which would go against the clients wishes and could even cause a dispute.
It has been mentioned above that Will Writers can be seen to be cost effective. However, it is sometimes the case that a cheaper price is offered from the outset and then additional and unavoidable costs are added as the transaction progresses.
A comparison with using a solicitor
Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (‘SRA’). The SRA provides a range of specific rules regarding the management of a law firm such as handling client data, client documents and admissions. They require solicitors to keep up to date with training throughout their career and to review this on an annual basis. To describe ourselves as solicitors, we have to be SRA regulated.
The SRA introduced framework regarding price transparency. Part of this framework includes a requirement to present pricing information in a ‘clear and easy to understand format’ and also requires firms to ‘provide a total cost’ or ‘if this is not possible provide an average or range of costs’. The benefit of using a solicitor means that although pricing may appear to be more expensive, it is a lot more transparent from the outset.
If an SRA regulated law firm merges or is wound up, they are required to notify the client to confirm what will happen to their Will. If the SRA itself closes a firm, the SRA will keep the Will in safe storage and will contact the client in due course.
The SRA also requires law firms to have a formal complaints procedure and insurance in place to cover client losses.
A Will is one of the most important documents a person will have to consider during their lifetime. We are able to offer a free initial meeting to discuss your personal circumstances and confirm the next steps to ensure peace of mind to those left behind. If would like to arrange an appointment, please contact Bethany Giles here.