Panorama's laudable exposé of unregulated will-writers reveals some of the tricks and cons used to dupe consumers who place their affairs in their hands, from charges that escalate enormously (in one case by over five thousand percent) to straightforward theft. It would appear that there is precious little protection or redress available from such companies as they do not have an independent regulatory body nor do they have to demonstrate a level of competence by holding a qualification.
Often a will is considered when a person discovers that they are seriously ill and in no position to shop around or even do proper "homework" on the company they choose. Even if this is not the case the deficiencies in the drafting of a will are often not revealed until some time afterwards.
Neil Hollingsworth of the Economic Crimes Unit of Lincolnshire police when commenting on the case of two fraudsters recently imprisoned for stealing hundreds of pounds from beneficiaries said: "A lot of the times, probably 90% of those cases, the beneficiaries didn't know they were beneficiaries and so they weren't asking questions"
With a ten percent share of the will drafting market in the hands of unregulated will-writing companies there is significant scope for exploitation by the unscrupulous. The attempts at regulation by self-appointed organisations may be well intentioned and in some quarters there are examples of good practice but they are not supported by the law.
The inescapable fact remains that solicitors have years of professional training; robust regulation by the Solicitors' Regulation Authority; are obliged to protect their clients with professional indemnity insurance and have an additional safety net in the shape of the solicitors' compensation fund if all else fails. As opposed to will writers who can only assure their clients that they are competent. Furthermore, solicitors bring, not only their expertise and meticulous attention to detail but can advise on other aspects that may have an impact on your estate such as the creation of trusts to protect your assets and powers of attorney where deemed to be necessary.
The vast majority of people only ever make one or possibly two wills in their lifetime and therefore have no real way of judging the advice given in this emotive and complex area of law. Individuals really are in the hands of their advisors making it vital that the advice is absolutely correct and their advisors are accountable.
© Tanda Migliorini & Associates LLP 2011