Reflections on the regulation of Will Writing in England and Wales
Posted on 7 August 2013
If you have been following the news over the last couple of years, you may be aware that there has been a debate about whether the will writing industry should be regulated, how this regulation would look and whether solicitors actually offer a better service than other will writers.
The process received attention after the BBC’s Panorama programme investigated some of the rogue practitioners operating within the industry. The programme was a welcome reminder that your last will and testament is an important legal document that should be drafted by someone you trust.
Deciding who you can trust can, of course, be a challenge. It can be particularly challenging if you are browsing online. That’s why, at Make a Will Online, we carry £2,000,000 professional liability insurance and are registered with the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) as Data Controllers. The insurance means that, in the very unlikely event that something should go wrong (in all the years we have been operating, this has never happened with one of our wills), you are covered. The data handling registration ensures that your private information stays private.
The Panorama programme highlighted a number of cases of unethical practice, for example where initial will-writing fees of £75-£100 escalated to thousands of pounds. In some cases, customers were unaware that the will writers were also selling estate administration services and naming themselves as executors. When private companies manage probate (distributing the estate), they often charge a percentage of the total estate as a fee. Across the industry, the mean cost of estate administration is £1,700 while 18% of work costs over £3,000.
At makeawillonline.co.uk, we DO NOT manage probate and DO NOT recommend any individual or service for this responsibility. Our role is to provide quality wills for an affordable price.
In the aftermath of the programme, the government asked The Legal Services Board (LSB) to investigate the will writing industry and to come up with suggestions for how will writing could be improved. At the start of 2013, the LSB presented its findings to the Lord Chancellor, who has the final say on matters of regulation.
The Lord Chancellor declined to make any changes to the existing system. As before, you do not need to visit a solicitor to write your will. As before, the responsibility remains with you to find the right service.
At Make a Will Online, we welcome this decision, with reservations.
The government is in the process of liberalising large parts of the legal services industry, making activities that were once restricted to solicitors available to a far wider range of legal services firms (including supermarkets). In this environment, it would have been strange of the Lord Chancellor to restrict a successful and diverse industry like ours, which more closely resembles the legal services marketplace the government wants to achieve. However, leaving the industry unregulated provides opportunities for unethical behaviour by rogue operators. The emphasis remains on you, the consumer, to find a service you trust.
We would welcome any regulation that ensures consumers are protected from rogue traders and, in the mean time, will continue to work hard providing a quality, fully legal service for the right price.