In July, it was announced that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) would be re-investigating unregulated will writers over possible breaches of consumer law. Complaints to the CMA have centred predominately around ambiguous pricing and unfair terms, including the tendency for firms to appoint themselves as executors of the will in order to charge excessive fees to deal with the administration of the estate when the time comes.
Whilst it remains to be seen what conclusions the CMA will arrive at, the issue has reignited calls for will writing to be made a ‘reserved legal activity’. This would mean that wills could only be written by qualified solicitors who are regulated by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority.
It raises an important question, therefore, about who you should approach for help in making a will, and what are the main issues you should consider?
My will was prepared by an unregulated will writer. Does that mean I need to make a new will now?
Not necessarily. It is not the case that all wills drafted by unregulated will writers should be regarded as defective in some way simply because of the lack of regulation they are subjected to. In fact, there will be many highly skilled unregulated will writers and, conversely, it cannot be said that drafting errors have never been committed by an SRA regulated solicitor. We suggest in this scenario that having the will reviewed by a regulated provider would give you peace of mind that your will does indeed cover your needs and those of your beneficiaries sufficiently.
I have heard that there is a significant cost saving to having my will drawn up by an unregulated will writer. Is that true?
It is fair to say that, on the whole, a will drawn up by an unregulated will writer will cost less on the face of it than an SRA regulated solicitor would typically charge. It is why the option to have a will prepared by a will writer is so attractive to many. With living costs on the rise, more so now than ever people are looking for the most cost-effective way to make a will. For some, though, they will later discover that the benefit of a low-cost or free will comes with unforeseen and disproportionately high fees charged by the will writer to – for example – store the will, to release the will, or as noted above to act as the executors. Greater transparency in fees, both in relation to the upfront costs and any anticipated future costs, is part of what the CMA is aiming to secure through its investigation.
How do I know if my needs and those of my beneficiaries are best served by a regulated or an unregulated will writer?
If it was possible to compile a definitive list of people whose needs would be sufficiently served by one or the other, this would be an altogether more straightforward question to answer! It will come as no surprise when we say that every person who is looking to make a will should decide the right option for them based on their own individual needs and circumstances. How much is the estate worth? Is advice needed on the potential tax implications? Do you have young or vulnerable beneficiaries to consider? Are you a blended family? Do you have business interests in addition to your own assets? These are all questions that would indicate a need for bespoke advice from a qualified solicitor. Furthermore, if the consequences of a poorly drafted will are likely to have significant ramifications due to the size of your estate, the type of assets that you own, or where it is clear that in this case the stakes are particularly high, it is worth bearing in mind that solicitors have professional indemnity insurance which means that ultimately there is someone you can sue if mistakes are made. The same cannot be said for the vast majority of unregulated providers.