People are running the risk of being cheated by unscrupulous salesmen who offer to write their wills for them but who are not adequately qualified, trained or insured.
That’s the warning from law firm Furley Page in response to calls for the Government to regulate who is allowed to write wills.
Val Prosser, a member of the Elderly Client Team at Furley Page, says that new regulations need to be put in place to protect people using will writing and estate administration services, particularly older and vulnerable people.
“Following recent surveys, incompetence and dishonesty in the will writing market has been highlighted which includes invalid wills and hidden fees by will writers. Many consumers are being duped by wills being advertised at a low cost only to find additional costs for ‘extras’ such as additional clauses, review charges and storage fees.
“There is also the concern that it if the will writing company ceases trading, original wills then become very difficult to trace,” adds Val.
Val says that every adult should complete a will to ensure that their estate passes to their loved ones in accordance with their wishes. However, it is vital that their will is drafted correctly and advice should be sought from qualified professionals – solicitors are regulated to provide this highly specialised service.
Following a recent consultation, the Legal Services Board will soon be recommending to the Lord Chancellor that the services of will writing, estate administration and probate should be carried out only by solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives or others who are regulated by an approved regulator.
Val says that the Law Society has for some years campaigned to warn the public of the dangers of using unregulated will writers who are not properly qualified. At present will writers need no training and therefore do not have to be legally qualified. This can often result in wills being invalid due to basic drafting errors, which can prove costly to rectify.
The President of the Law Society, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, says: “Without regulation there is not enough protection for consumers from poor quality advice or, in the worst cases, unscrupulous advisors, with a real risk of painful and expensive consequences.”
Val points out the importance of obtaining specialist advice when preparing a will to ensure that the person’s needs and wishes are correctly included: “Furley Page has a team of specialists who can identify a person’s situation and needs which can then be reflected in the drafting of their will.
“Everyone’s circumstances are different and a will should be tailored to the person’s individual requirements. Incorrect advice can have adverse and often expensive consequences for the person making the will or for the family they have left behind.”
Val warned of the consequences of failing to have a will drawn up by a regulated professional. “If someone dies without leaving a will they are said to die Intestate. Their estate is then distributed in accordance with strict statutory rules. If you have family you wish to protect, it is essential that you make a will so that the intestacy rules do not apply.
“Also, if you live with your partner but are not married, your partner will have no automatic rights to inherit from you on your death if you die intestate. It is therefore important to make a will to protect your partner. It should also be noted that marriage revokes a will so if you have made a will and then subsequently marry, your will may no longer be valid.
“You can also choose the person or persons (“executors”) who are to be responsible for settling your affairs on your death. If you do not make a will the law decides who will do this.”
Val says that if a will is incorrectly drafted, this can cause ambiguity and uncertainty as to the meaning of the will and the intention of the testator (the person making the will). It may then be necessary for a court to decide the interpretation of the will which can prove very costly in legal expenses for the family. As unregulated will writers are not insured, these costs would be an expense to the estate or to the family personally.
Val is a member of Solicitors for the Elderly and also the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, which are national organisations specialising in these matters. Furley Page is recommended by The Legal 500 for its expertise in advising on wills and probate.
For more information about will writing and estate administration, contact Val Prosser on 01277 763939.
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