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26th July 2023

Unregulated Will-writers: a false economy?

Unregulated Will-writers: a false economy?
Daniel Watson
Daniel Watson
Senior Associate

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a review into unregulated legal services, following concerns that some providers are failing to comply with consumer protection law.

While alternatives to conventional law firms/solicitors might be seen to benefit consumers - some argue they are more convenient and cheaper - CMA has highlighted the risks to consumers, including in the realm of unregulated Will-writing companies.

The use of unregulated Will-writers with no legal qualifications, no overarching professional code of conduct and sometimes, no insurance, can result in customers being misled and overcharged. In some cases, customers are required to instruct solicitors subsequently to correct documents prepared by unregulated Will-writers, when mistakes are ultimately discovered. In other words, the use of an unregulated Will-writer in preparing a Will can be a costly mistake.

CMA noted that consumers can be misled through opaque advertisements offering a very low initial fee, but which fail to mention that final costs can increase significantly. In addition, unregulated Will-writing companies can include potentially unfair contract terms, such as the exclusion of liability, the omission of cancellation rights, and the automatic appointment of the Will-writing firm as executor (enabling that firm to charge often significant sums for administering an estate).

CMA also noted the risk of coercion of vulnerable customers, and pressure-selling.

There is also concern that, if an unregulated Will-writing company ceases to operate in the future, important documents (including original Wills) may be lost.

In response to the CMA’s review, Law Society president Lubna Shuja noted that “When writing a Will, we would encourage consumers to use a solicitors’ firm… people who use a solicitor receive support from a specialist legal professional who is regulated and insured.”

The requirement for solicitors to maintain suitable professional indemnity insurance is crucial in enhancing consumer confidence, as insurance can protect clients/beneficiaries if mistakes are made. Unregulated advisors may not always have such insurance in place, meaning that disappointed beneficiaries could be left without any redress if things go wrong.

It is crucial for clients to feel confident that their Will is going to have the effect they intend it to on their death. It remains the case that the appointment of a regulated solicitor in the preparation of a Will is arguably the best way to achieve this.