“Making a will is something everyone should do. It is one of the most important actions that individuals take. We should be able to have confidence in those who advise and draft documents for us.” This advice came earlier this year from Mr David Edmonds, Chairman of the Legal Services Board (LSB). The LSB is the new ‘super regulator’ for all lawyers in England and Wales, including Solicitors, so when its Chairman speaks, those in legal practice should listen.
The LSB launched a consultation this past summer after discovering problems with the quality of work being done in drafting wills and dealing with probate. Will writing and estate administration are currently areas where anyone, regardless of legal training, can give advice. The number of unregulated advisers has increased over the years, and arguably this could be linked to the rise in complaints. The aim of regulating will writing would be to cut down on 'sloppy' service from both Solicitors and the myriad of other ‘lawyers’ advising in this area. Even more important, a properly regulated market should reduce the chances of clients suffering unfair sales practices, fraud and deception.
Too many people in the UK already fail to make a will, so anything that might discourage them from dealing with this important legal process, such as a loss of confidence, must be resolved. Often those who seek advice about a will are elderly and at a particularly vulnerable time in their lives. Horror stories about will writers advertising to write a will for around £24 and then charging hundreds of pounds do nothing to improve consumer confidence, so bringing in a level of regulation should be welcomed.
In a survey of 100 people who needed a will, the LSB found that 20 per cent came back with ‘basic errors’ in their wills. A handful of the wills were so bad that they could not be executed, i.e. they were useless. An ineffective will simply leaves the beneficiaries with a problem rather than providing them with the guidance that a properly drafted will should provide.
The Law Society has already endorsed the LSB’s proposals and recommended that will writing and estate work be reserved for suitable qualified individuals. The purpose of regulating any type of legal work is to help protect consumers and ensure that if mistakes are made, clients have access to suitable redress or compensation. As the Law Society has pointed out to the LSB, the current system of allowing unregulated advisers to work in this area presents ‘a clear risk’ which will no doubt have to be resolved soon. A final report is expected this winter, but any new regulation is likely to include will writing, trusts, the creation of powers of attorney2 and the management of estate matters when a client dies.
What could these changes mean for you? As more wills and probate work is done by Solicitors, there will be more opportunities available in this fascinating and important area of legal practice. If you complete the Legal Secretaries Diploma or a single-subject course in Wills, Probate and Administration, you will be aware of the requirements for a will to be valid and how easy it can be to make a mistake meeting them. Solicitors need support staff who have legal training. Your current level of training can help you understand your role in ensuring that clients are given the best service. By completing one of our courses, you are also demonstrating to a firm that you are willing and able to continue to learn. This is an attitude that will be much in demand for wills and probate practitioners in the coming years.
There are currently eight ‘approved regulators’ that the LSB oversees, including the Law Society and the Bar Council.
2 A power of attorney generally allows someone to deal with your affairs while you are still alive but are not mentally or physically able to act.