Interim results from a survey published today by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), reveal the scale of the threat posed to the consumer from cowboys in the will writing market. The survey found that 75% of STEP members have encountered cases of “incompetence or dishonesty in the will writing market in the last 12 months” and prompted STEP to again call for better consumer protection.
 
Two thirds of respondents reported coming across hidden fees which were not outlined in the stated price for a will, and 63% had direct experience of cases where will writing companies had gone out of business and disappeared with their clients’ wills. Just over one third had encountered cases where incompetence had led to significant additional tax bills.
 
Chief Executive David Harvey said: “This research shows how widespread cowboy will writers have become and it is clear those who charge a fee for writing a will should now be regulated. They must have an appropriate qualification, and they must have proper indemnity insurance. Soon the consumer will be protected by new regulation in Scotland and this benefit needs to be extended to cover the rest of the UK.”
 
Examples of malpractice included a company which approached young mothers in shopping malls, telling them their children would be taken into care after they died if they failed to make a will. One consumer was charged £12,000 up-front for executor services only for their family to find the firm involved had gone out of business not long after, disappearing with their wills and money.
 
In June the Legal Services Board launched a review of the threat posed to consumers in England & Wales by unprofessional will writers and is currently seeking evidence of consumer harm. The Scottish Parliament is currently going through the process of regulating non-lawyer will writers through the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill.