Not all Will writers are the same (whether they are in a Will Writing Business or a Law firm!)
Astonishingly, 'Will Writers' do not need to be regulated.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority regulate 'Reserved Activities' and Will Writing and the drafting of Lasting Powers of Attorney do not fall under that list. This means that someone can take a one day course in Will writing and offer you services – they don’t even need to have professional indemnity insurance.
The Competition and Markets Authority is currently investigating the situation with Will writing, probate services and 'quickie' divorces. Their Concerns include:
- consumers being misled by advertising which offers an extremely low initial fee for advice but does not indicate that final costs can increase significantly
- the use of potentially unfair contract terms, such as exclusions of liability, failure to provide cancellation rights, and terms which automatically appoint the firm as executor (often for a fee)
- reports of pressure selling and coercion of vulnerable customers.
I do not dispute that this investigation is needed, and that greater regulation of the sector can address some of these issues. However, I do not believe Will Writing or ‘quickie divorces’ should become reserved activities that only law firms can carry out, as I simply don’t feel that the fees law firms charge for simple wills and LPAs are necessarily proportionate.
There are two types of Will Writer who do not belong to the traditional law firm – those who voluntarily join a self-regulatory body and those who don’t. My advice would be to always use one who has joined either the Society of Will Writers (SWW) or the Institute of Professional Will Writers (IPW)
In a previous review of the sector, the CMA was complimentary of the two main regulatory bodies, the SWW and the IPW:
'Self-regulated providers are covered by similar requirements to those in authorised professions. For example, they are subject to training requirements, codes of conduct, PII requirements and external complaints mechanisms. Both the SWW and the IPW have entrance exams, codes of conduct and requirements for professional development (CPD) and require members to have PII. Customers of these providers can refer complaints to these bodies'.
Cornwall Will Writers, is regulated by the Society of Will Writers. In order to become a full and regulated member of the SWW I am required to evidence qualifications, experience and compliance on par with the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
I provide complete terms and conditions at the outset, offer a free initial consultation and always provide clear fixed fees up front. They are on my website and on all of my marketing. I do not charge by the hour. I do not exclude liability and wholeheartedly disagree with any terms that automatically appoint a firm as an executor.
I have to meet CPD (Continuous Professional Development) each year, just as a law firm must. I hold all of my client information in professional legal software (LEAP), as well as hard copy files for a minimum 7 years, so if anything happened to me, the information is all still there, in the cloud.
If you chose a Will Writer who is regulated by one of these bodies, you know that that person has been assessed individually and that there is insurance in place.
So, is the situation safer with a regulated law firm? If you chose to use a regulated solicitors firm, you will know that the firm has sufficient insurance. You will also know that it is regulated by the SRA so that if things do go wrong, they will investigate and help sort the situation out. But, in my view, being with a law firm doesn’t necessarily guarantee the best service, or indeed a ‘qualified’ fee earner. If you are not a higher net worth client, your fee earner may well be a paralegal. The world of law wouldn’t work without paralegals; they are wonderful...BUT...they may have no formal qualifications (just like your unregulated Will Writer) and whilst in an excellent firm their work will be counter checked by someone more senior, if they didn’t ask you the right questions at your first meeting, it won’t be clear if they have missed some crucial advice. There is also no guarantee that their work is in reality suitably checked, even if they do fall under regulation that requires it.
My advice? Check out the person in front of you - the one who is taking instructions, advising you and drafting your documents. I am a Will Writer carrying out work outside of the SRA, although I am a qualified solicitor. As such, I have to call myself a 'retired' or 'non-practising' solicitor. Because of this, I can provide the service to you at half the cost of a law firm. I have a law degree, I have a Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice, I have an SRA approved Training contact (and so I remain on the Roll of solicitors).
In the last year, as part of my required CPD, I have undertaken the STEP Certificate in Estates and Trusts which I passed with Distinction, and also an Institute of Professional Will Writers course on Advanced Trusts and Taxation.
You can go to a law firm an see someone fully qualified, or you can see an unqualified paralegal (who may have plenty of experience). Don’t rely on the fact that they are a regulated firm - Ask. Ask the PERSON in front of you what their qualifications and/or experience is regardless of where you go. Don’t put all Will Writers in the 'unqualified' bundle, or all representatives in a law firm in the 'qualified' bundle. Neither is correct. I choose to specialise in more simple Wills and trusts as this means that I can keep my costs down. That doesn’t mean I cant give you advice on estate planning, tax planning, business assets etc, but if I think you are better off in a law firm specialising in your more complex area, that is what I will advise you -because it is my business and my one aim is to provide you with the best service for your particular situation. I have a handful of firms that I refer more complex, high net worth clients to, or more complex trusts, but even in that instance I will only refer to a fee earner who I know will be the right fit for a client and is suitably qualified.
Not everyone needs to pay £400 for a Will, and that’s why I believe there is a market for all.
Just make sure you do your research (whether that is about a law firm or a Will Writer) and know about the person you are meeting.