Thursday, 5 June 2014

Where there’s a will……….

Should will-writing only be carried out by a regulated legal professional, like a barrister, solicitor or specified legal executive?

There has been a wide-ranging debate on this, particularly over the last decade. It has been rather like watching the hokey-cokey as public, professional and political opinion has swayed between regulation and leaving things as they are.

As well as legal and finance professionals who specialise in advising on writing wills, there are also three associations of will-writers with different membership requirements and offering different codes of conduct. But there is no requirement to be a member of any of these before proffering advice.

As one person in favour of regulation persuasively and accurately argued
“Independent financial advisers are regulated and required to be qualified, and solicitors need to be qualified and closely controlled, but someone could be a convicted fraudster, set up as a will writer tomorrow with no qualifications, experience or professional indemnity insurance and proceed to dispense advice on tax, inheritance laws and so on. Most consumers are unable to judge the quality or value of the service that they are getting, so it is no exaggeration to say that will writing has become a happy hunting ground for the incompetent, the dishonest and the fly-by-night operator.”

In 2005, the last Labour government said it would only regulate if there was evidence it was necessary, whilst the Conservatives, in debate on the Legal Services Bill in 2007 called for will writing for fee, gain or reward to be added to the list of reserved legal activities. Then, in 2013, following a statutory investigation, the Legal Services Board recommended that will writing activities should be a reserved activity (ie regulated), but the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat government decided to reverse its earlier position and decline to regulate.

In January this year, the Legal Services Board convened a round-table of will-writers to try to find ways of improving service standards and quality. But, in May, the government confirmed that it did not intend to regulate.

Perhaps the most worrying thing is that around one-third of pensioners don’t have sufficient savings or assets that would require any specialist advice on will-writing. Further, what would day-time TV be like without ‘Heir Hunters’?

What we do know is that where there’s a will, someone will have an interest.

The best advice I can give is that, if you are looking for assistance in drafting your will, make sure you don’t get it from the dishonest or the incompetent.

I rather suspect that, after the next bad-news story about a family who have lost everything because of the poor advice from a will-writer, there will be another surge of pressure to regulate.