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Buyer beware! Public warned about 'cowboy' will-makers

Let the buyer beware, a phrase commonly associated with purchasing a property, is also now being used in the context of warning the public about ‘cowboy wills’.

Although many Wills are drafted by qualified and regulated lawyers, like our team here at Fosters Solicitors, the act of Will writing itself is not a regulated service and anyone can in fact write a Will.

Therefore, understandably people ask the question, “why can’t I write my own Will?”, or maybe seek out one of the many low-cost options that seem to be regularly advertised.  However, although anyone can legally write a Will, concerns are being raised about the standards of service people are actually receiving.

So much so, this summer the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into the potential risks to customers and possible breaches of consumer protection law surrounding Will writing, as well as pre-paid probate plans and online divorce. As part of this investigation, interested parties were invited to share their responses to the CMA.

One such organisation that responded was STEP, the professional body for inheritance advisors, who not only wrote to the CMA, but also published a report highlighting the impact of ‘dishonest, unqualified and incompetent’ practitioners – calling for regulation, additional high-quality training and recognition of specialist Will qualifications.

In their report, Wills and Trusts: Buyer Beware: uncovering the impact of unqualified advisors in the estate planning sector – STEP draws on the experience of hundreds of their members, many of whom have witnessed first-hand some of the bad advice on offer, requiring them to pick up the pieces for clients who have been on the wrong-end of this situation.

The report states:

  • Over half (54%) highlighted their concerns about rogue firms making false claims about Wills leading to increased tax bills.
  • The majority of respondents (63%) have come across cases where a Will writing company has quoted a fee for writing a Will but then charged additional costs not covered within the terms of business.
  • Just over half of those surveyed (54%) have come across firms making false claims about the Wills they are selling to clients. Of those, 71 people mentioned that advisors had wrongly told their clients that they could avoid care home fees by putting their home and other assets into a trust during their lifetime. Some clients have been advised to gift their house during their lifetime. Both of these are considered to be deliberate deprivation of assets and are ineffective for care assessment which can lead to serious problems.
  • A third of respondents had come across cases where incompetence has led to significant tax bills, with examples of tax charges in many instances in the tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds and in a few cases up to £2 million.

Commenting on the report, Head of Wills, Trusts & Probate at Fosters Solicitors, Lisa Glynne said: “The importance of making a Will cannot be underestimated, as it helps make sure your wishes are heard and your family’s future secured upon the event of your death, but for many reasons people put off making their Will. Understandably, this could be them not wanting to think about their own mortality, sometimes apprehension about using a solicitor and not understanding what’s involved and also the potential cost of the services.  

“Like most things we spend money on, we shop around for the best offers. Unfortunately, in many cases, a price that looks too good to be true often is, and we have witnessed some of the situations detailed by STEP in their report. Situations which have required us having to support clients in unravelling some serious issues as a result of bad advice from previous Will writing companies. In some instances, these issues are not found until after the person who made the Will has passed away, sadly leaving their family the additional stress and cost of sorting it all out.

“To avoid these risks, we would always recommend taking the advice of an accredited lawyer, using a regulated firm like ours. This will give you the peace of mind that the advice you are receiving is correct and also transparency over what you’re paying for, allowing you to make an informed decision about our services.”

How we can help

At Fosters Solicitors, our Wills, Trusts & Probate team are recommended in The Legal 500 UK for their strong private client practice across all three of our branches, in Norwich, Wymondham and Lowestoft. Partner and head of department, Lisa Glynne is also recognised as a ‘Leading Individual’ in the rankings – and is joined by her colleagues, Paige Gouldthorpe, Rachel Chiarotti, Charlotte Ranson, Lauren Crosby and Louise Gibbs-Kneller as recommended individuals in their field.

With members of the team also holding STEP and SFE accreditation, you can be assured of the high-quality, empathetic and expert nature of the service provided.

To find out more about the team and their services, please visit our website pages or contact the team directly on 01603 620508 or by email.

Our Wills, Trusts & Probate team

This article was produced on the 21st November 2023 by our Wills, Trusts & Probate team for information purposes only and should not be construed or relied upon as specific legal advice.