As part of a Government working party a few years ago we put forward recommendations that the Will Writing and Estate Planning sector should be regulated. Unfortunately, the recommendations were not followed, and the industry remains unregulated. Recently, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) have announced an investigation into several practices used by reckless and unreliable firms. This is an investigation we welcome as we strive to uphold excellence in consumer practice and professionalism in our field.
In the discipline of Will Writing the CMA note that the industry is not regulated and that individuals can write their own Wills. They have three areas of concern. The first of these is regarding the possibility that consumers can be misled by low advertised fees which do not advise that fees can sometimes increase significantly. We have always published our full price list on our website and advise potential clients exactly what is, and is not covered, in any advertised fees before we take instruction.
The second area of CMA concern looks at potentially unfair contract terms, for example exclusions of liability, failure to provide cancellation rights, and the automatic appointing of the firm as an executor. These are all important issues which we have always taken very seriously. We carry professional indemnity insurance of £5M which we are proud that, to date, has never been claimed against. As part of our standard procedure not only are potential clients advised of our cancellation period during purchase, but they are also sent a welcome e-mail prior to our taking instruction which re-iterates this and links to our terms of business along with helpful advice on what needs to be considered prior to making the Will.
Although we strongly believe that in many cases a professional executor is the better option when dealing with Probate and Estate Administration we do not, and would not, automatically appoint ourselves in this role. The whole aspect of naming executors is dealt with, in depth during the instruction process and we always respect our clients’ wishes.
As well as Will Writing the CMA investigation covers the disreputable area of Pre-paid Probate Plans. The concerns they have here are pressure selling techniques, especially on the elderly or vulnerable people, lack of transparency of what costs are covered, unnecessary or failed plans, delays in probate leaving the bereaved unable to settle bills or sell property, and lack of awareness regarding the security of an individuals’ estate.
We have always believed that Probate Plans are highly questionable, do not support them and have never sold them. Across all our communication with potential and current clients we avoid any pressure selling, occasionally refusing to provide a service for someone we fell may not have the capacity to understand the products and services on offer.
Although we do not, and will not, sell these plans we do recognise the CMAs concerns in this area. This is why, where we provide Professional Executor or Estate Administration services, we are full transparent of what is included, and what additional charges and disbursements may be incurred.
As we are well aware of the current delays in obtaining Probate we are regularly in touch with the Court chasing up on our clients’ behalf, and should we believe that a Professional Executor is not required we simply don’t advise one.
It has long been our goal to make Private Client Legal Services available for as wide an audience as possible, accessible to all, and affordable for everyone. We aim to achieve this be working to the highest standards, as transparently as possible, and following best consumer practice. We are concerned that there are firms out there who fail in these areas which is why we welcome the CMA investigation as it can only benefit the consumer and the industry.