Will writing remains unregulated – A warning to consumers
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
Will writing remains unregulated, following a decision by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to reject a recommendation from the Legal Services Board that it should be brought within the definition of reserved legal activities.
The Legal Services Board carried out a lengthy investigation into three areas of Law, Will writing, Estate Administration and Powers of Attorney. At the conclusion of its enquiry the Board recommended that only Will writing should be brought within the list of activities that can only legally be carried on by regulated Legal Services providers. The proposal was supported by all of the existing Legal Regulators, as well as the Legal Services Consumer Panel. The latter is a body set up under the provisions of the Legal Services Act 2007 to represent the interests of Consumers in the field of Legal Services.
Despite the overwhelming support for making Will writing a restricted activity the Ministry of Justice suggested that the evidence that had been produced of “consumer detriment” did not adequately demonstrate that bringing Will writing activities within the definition of reserved legal activities “is the best solution”.
The statement issued by the Ministry went on to say, “To ensure that the costs/burdens of increased regulation are not imposed unnecessarily, further efforts should be made to see if measures can be made more effective before resorting to reservation”.
In response to this decision the Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, Elisabeth Davies said, “This decision is extremely disappointing news consumers and makes no sense given the sheer weight of evidence of consumer detriment and the wide consensus backing regulation. Anti-regulation dogma has triumphed over what is in the best interests of consumers.”
In its report the Legal Services Board recognised that errors in Will drafting could be made by both regulated and unregulated providers. It also acknowledged that there were a number of competent Will Writers, whose businesses operated perfectly well. However, for as long as Will writing remains unregulated consumers will face difficulty in distinguishing between competent, ethical businesses and those that do not provide such services. In addition, unregulated Will providers cannot be compelled to engage in any form of complaints process where the consumer is dissatisfied with the service provided, are not subject to the authority of the Legal Ombudsman and may not carry insurance to compensate consumers when a mistake is made.
As Ms Davies pointed out, during the course of its enquiries the Legal Services Board found that there was considerable evidence of individuals suffering at the hands of unregulated Will Writers. In addition to poor service and badly drawn documentation many consumers complained of having been pressured into signing up for a raft of services that they did not need, often at a cost of many thousands of pounds. In some cases, for example, elderly individuals had been persuaded to sign contracts under which the Will Writing Company agreed to store the original Will, but which provided for a charge of more than £1000 per annum for a service which this Practice, in common with most Solicitors provides for free.
For as long as Will writing remains unregulated any consumer would be unwise to trust this vital activity to a someone who is not covered by the unrivalled regulatory and compensation system to which all Solicitors are subject. Only then can they know that there is an independent body to who they may complain if they are dissatisfied with the service provided and there is a proper system in place to compensate them, or their estate should things go wrong.