The Legal Services Board, an independent body that oversees the regulation of lawyers across England and Wales, announced it will begin investigating how consumers can best be protected from poor quality and bad sales practices when buying wills.
Market research carried out by the Legal Services Consumer Panel showed that consumers often have appalling experiences when buying wills, which can have “huge personal and financial consequences for those who we care about most”.
In a mystery-shopper style exercise, one in five wills failed in the eyes of expert assessors.
Dr Dianne Hayter, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said: “The panel was shocked by the poor quality of wills in the mystery shopping. Although the sample was small, will-writing companies and solicitors were equally culpable, pointing to the need for tighter controls across the sector.
“Most people were happy with the service they got from will-writers, but there is evidence that a rogue minority is pressuring people to buy services they do not need and charging excessive prices.”
A typical example of malpractice can be seen in a complaint received by Hampshire Citizens Advice. Their client felt pressured to buy a will when approached by a will-writing company in a shopping centre.
The salesperson then visited the client’s home to complete the deal after initially promising the fee would be £35 per person. But the final total came to £3,000, which the clients were told would be paid out of their estate if they did not pay up front. The clients were also made to agree to give 1% of their estate to the will provider.
Because of examples like this and many other instances of malpractice, the Legal Services Board intends to make will-writing services regulated, but it could take two years before legislation is implemented.
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