As a Private Client solicitor I am becoming more and more depressed and frustrated about the quality of wills and probate services available to the public. Cost, or certainly the lack of it, seems to be the driving force behind consumers who are choosing to write their wills and wind up their loved one’s estate.
A person with a house and modest savings has a sizeable estate, well into the £150,000 - £200,000 bracket. That is at stake with a badly drawn will, or in the hands of someone who is not qualified to administer a deceased’s estate. The emotional and monetary costs of putting it right when a will is badly drawn can be devastating.
Will writers are not regulated. There are companies administering deceased’s estates worth hundreds of thousand of pounds who are not regulated either. Who checks that these people are properly insured? Do any consumers stop to ask? The price should not be the only factor surely. I have acted for several clients over the years where their parent or spouse had made a will with a will writing company which was defective. It has cost the beneficiaries of the estate a significant amount to put it right. Can the will writers be sued to recover the costs? In theory yes, but it doesn’t happen very often, because in practice they have either gone out of business, or are not adequately insured.
I read an article recently in the legal press of a firm of will writers who had gone out of business literally dumping files and wills they had charged their clients to store.
I was speaking to a District Probate Registrar who was bemoaning the fact that most of her time is now taken up by applications to put right defective wills. It is usually the same culprits. Is anything done to stop them? No, they carry on.
The irony is that most will writers have hidden charges and companies administering estate charge a percentage of the value of a beneficiary’s share of an estate. A recent Panorama programme exposed a number or sharp practices operated by will writing firms. I have recently come across a family who are prepared to entrust the administration of the estate of a deceased worth over £400,000 to a person, who is not a qualified solicitor, who resigned from her job with a large city council after admitting stealing money from deceased’s accounts she was looking after on behalf of that council and she is charging her client 20% of the value of the beneficiary’s share of the estate that is 20% of possibly as much as £100,000. Madness!
Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority. Insurance is compulsory or we are out of business. If we should get it wrong, compensation is available. Most firm’s charge a fixed fee for preparing wills and charge only for the actual work they do when winding up a deceased person’s estate.
There is a growing campaign by the Law Society and other consumer groups to get will writers and the like regulated and insured. It has to happen.