Unqualified Will Writers

The 'Estate Planning Sector' (meaning Will preparation and Probate) remains an unregulated field - meaning that anyone, trained or untrained, qualified or unqualified, can set up a business and offer advice and prepare Wills.

STEP (the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) has recently conducted a report on the impact of unqualified advisers in the estate planning sector. Here are some of the headlines:

  • Over 1/3 of STEP members reported hearing of and experiencing Will-writing companies that were completely un-transparent about their fees and further costs.
  • A large number charge significant storage fees, not explained at the time they are instructed, but requiring payment in order to obtain the original Will.
  • Unqualified Will-writing companies often claim that solicitors cost thousands and then draw people in with a potentially "free" or discounted will, only to add on charges for each provision contained, for a probate trust that is not needed, for storage fees etc. It can add up to £3,000-£4,000 for something that was originally sold as £100 - being a figure most definitely far in excess of what most qualified solicitors are charging!
  • More than half of respondents came across examples of untrue claims being made about care fees.
  • A third of respondents saw cases where incompetence led to significant tax bills.
  • In one instance an unqualified will-writing company did not inform their customer that creation of a lifetime trust would trigger an immediate inheritance tax charge (in this case £22,000) with another falling due if the settlor died within seven years. The settlor did indeed die a year later (not unexpected given her age) and the total IHT bill was £45,000. There would have been no IHT due if the trust had not been created and the assets left in her estate.

Sarah Manuel, STEP’s head of professional standards, said: 'All too often, people don’t realise that they have been a victim of rogue will advice until it is too late for themselves and their families… Drafting a will can be complex and it is crucial that will writers are trained, and have a recognised specialist qualification with proven experience and insurance.'

Tim Butcher

Published on 17/10/2023

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