Following a mystery shopping exercise and report from Dr Dianne Hayter (Chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel), some extraordinary and frightening statistics have emerged regarding the validity of wills – be this through a will writing service or even a Solicitor – all types of providers are often supplying a totally substandard service in this regard. In fact, it has been reported that as many as one in five wills that were thought to have been prepared professionally, may actually be invalid. Even the firms of Solicitors that were assessed showed an equal rate of invalidity to the will writing services, and these findings are quite rightly thought to be completely unsatisfactory.
Any client looking for their last wishes to be recorded accurately in a will is not likely to find out if this is valid or not, and this is one of the most worrying aspects of these statistics. It will always be the proposed beneficiaries of the will that will have to learn the hard way, and this will usually be in complete contrast to what the deceased would be looking for in the event of their death.
Obviously, the provider of the will-making service is primarily to blame here, but perhaps this is also yet another case of just how pedantic our legal system can be – when it fails to accommodate the wishes of a deceased individual who really did try to tie up all loose ends in completely good faith. Probate law is notoriously rigid, and this is often to the detriment of what should be the right way forward.
It has been identified that there is a fundamental lack of official accreditation and regulation where will writing services are concerned. This is believed to be the main reason why the validity of wills has become so questionable. It may well shock you to learn that absolutely anyone can start a will writing service and they would not need any official qualifications in order to do so; neither would they need to subscribe to any official regulatory body. There is a qualification that Solicitors can take in an endeavour to prove their knowledge in this legal area (STEP), but this does not appear to carry a huge amount of weight.
As there is a huge lack of regulatory control where the validity of wills is concerned, this has led to a service industry that can be downright criminal in its activities at times. Indeed, some service providers are known to extort massive fees for the preparation of simple wills (research revealed one provider charging over £3,000 for a simple will and also putting a clause in the document that would entitle that company to inherit 1% of the client’s estate upon their death). Other cases have come to light that have proven that the will-making provider has made a fundamental error in the will but has successfully managed to contest any liability.
A figure of around £80 to £100 is thought to be a good average price for preparing a will. Anything that is significantly higher than this price should be questioned; so, too, should any figure that appears to be too good to be true: often this may well transpire to be the case.
It is abundantly clear that proper regulation and accreditation need to be implemented into this area of law as soon as possible. After all, we are talking about one of the most important things here: the last will and testament of any individual should always be sacrosanct and there is no way there should ever be any reason for their wishes not to be carried out to the full. Alas, it is a massive shame that our legal system has failed to recognise this fact, thus far.
If you are worried about the validity of wills in any way, there is absolutely nothing preventing you from taking your document along to another service provider to make sure everything is as it should be. Equally, if you are looking for someone whom you can trust to prepare such an important document in the first place, question the service provider’s experience and qualifications in this regard from the outset.