Last month, the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) revealed the results of a new U.K. survey that found that in the last year 75% of STEP members in the U.K. encountered cases of incompetence or dishonesty in the will writing market. In addition, 66% came across hidden fees and 63% directly experienced cases where will writing companies in the U.K. had gone out of business disappearing with clients’ wills.
STEP’s Chief Executive, David Harvey, commented: “This research shows how widespread cowboy will writers have become and it is clear those who charge a fee for writing a will should now be regulated.”
By way of background, a will writing market exists in the U.K. where non-solicitors draft wills. 7% of all wills in the U.K. are drafted by non-solicitor will writers. Anyone can set themselves up as a will writer and there is little regulation. A recent investigative news program on the BBC on will writers brought attention to the problem. The program highlighted cases where clients were blatantly exploited by will writers. Since the program aired, the public has called for more regulation.
While in Canada, solicitors do not have to contend with will writers (scrupulous or otherwise), estate litigators can attest to numerous situations where poorly drafted wills have resulted in needless expense to the estate, bitter disputes among family members, and financial penalties that could have been avoided. Often the attempt by the testator to save money by not seeking professional estate planning advice, results in expensive litigation later on.
Interestingly enough, the proposed solution in the U.K. is not to prevent non-solicitors from drafting wills but for more regulation. STEP itself offers a will preparation qualification program to non-solicitors.
For more background on U.K.’s Legal Services Act, its impact on will drafting and a perspective on its implications in Canada, read Jordan Furlong’s blog on the issue.
In the end, do your loved ones a favour and advise them to get professional estate advice.
Thanks for reading,
Diane A. Vieira