Will-writing firms ‘ripping off consumers’Companies not properly regulated, says Minister

09 August 2010

The Will papers

Writing a will is much simpler than you may think

Unregulated will-writing firms in the UK are swindling consumers out of thousands of pounds, a Scottish Minister has told the BBC’s Panorama – and while new laws to protect people will come into force in Scotland next year, there are currently no plans to regulate will-writing south of the border.

Fergus Ewing MSP, the Scottish government’s minister for community and safety protection, says the rest of the UK needs similar protection to that which is planned for Scotland from 2011.

However when Which? investigated the advice and services offered by solicitors, specialist will-writing firms and banks, we discovered it was not only will-writing firms who gave cause for concern.

Will-writing services: potential pitfalls

According to the BBC, victims of will-writing firms have been attracted by low-priced services which then escalate massively in cost, while will beneficiaries have even had payouts stolen. Currently, there is no regulation in place to ensure will-writers have appropriate qualifications or proper indemnity insurance.

Meanwhile, our undercover investigation revealed that although solicitors generally provided a good service, will-writers and banks did not always give the standard of advice Which? experts expected.

In a number of cases, our researcher was advised to name the will-writing firm or bank they contacted as an executor in their will even though this can have significant implications for an individual’s beneficiaries. The potential cost of naming the firm or bank as a professional executor was not always explained - yet the probate fees for administering a large estate could run to tens of thousands of pounds, as banks tend to demand a percentage of the deceased’s estate in addition to any extra charges they might levy.

Writing your will

'While reports of unnecessarily expensive, or even fraudulent, will-writing services might conspire to put you off making a will, it is crucial to ensure you do so,' says Which? tax and wills expert Ian Robinson. 

'If you die without a will there is a real risk your wealth will not be distributed to your family and friends in the way you would wish. This is because arbitrary rules – known as the intestacy laws - will have to be followed in the absence of specific instructions from you.'

For help with organising your will, read the Which? Writing your will advice guide. It contains tips for making a valid will without paying hefty fees, as well as guidance on how to store and update your will.

Which? Legal Service also offers a specialist will-writing service, with single wills competitively priced at £89 and mirror wills (two identical wills, useful for members of a couple) costing £129.

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