Companies that provide will writing services in England and Wales have recently come under fire by the Legal Services Consumer Panel. The Panel was set up in 2007 with the purpose of providing independent advice to the Legal Services Board. The Panel had conducted a small survey using mystery shoppers to test how well will-writers and solicitors provide the service and they have concluded that in many instances the service is very poor. It has now recommended that a full statutory investigation should be instigated with a view to completely regulating the will-writing service industry, including probate and estate administration. It is a first for the panel, which has never before had to take steps to recommend that a service should become regulated with specifically approved will-writers.
The Panel uncovered shocking examples of poor will-writing with as many as one in five wills found to be unsatisfactory by assessors and the individuals responsible for drawing them up being cited for malpractice. Examples include charging outrageous fees for drawing up the will, despite an initial low quote. Some people found themselves liable for a fee of £3000 whereas they were initially quoted £35. When the charges were challenged, the individual was subject to threats of being liable to hand over a significant portion of their estate if they did not pay. Pressure selling was also found to be common, with people being forced into accepting monthly management fees, or charges for secure storage when that storage did not even exist.
Although there were dreadful examples of extortion and hard selling techniques, the Panel emphasised that most will-writers provided a service that was acceptable to the consumer. However, they still felt that regulation is needed in order to stamp out the small minority who are tarnishing the industry’s reputation.