Are financial planners best-placed to deliver will-writing services?
As competition heats up among will writers, the legal industry announced it would implement a scheme to protect consumers from the clutches of “cowboy” will writers, following the government’s refusal to regulate the practice.
But do lawyers deserve the trust given to them by the vast majority of people looking to plan their estate, or would customers be better served by professional financial planners?
The Law Society, which lobbied heavily that all will writers should be trained to the same level and subject to high regulatory requirements, said the public was “let down” by the Lord Chancellor’s decision in mid-May to reject a proposal to add the practice to the list of reserved activities.
It responded to the decision by setting up its own set of standards, The Wills and Inheritance Scheme, for members of the legal community to adhere to.
But members of the adviser community questioned the effectiveness of the scheme, which is set to launch in July. They said lawyers were often not knowledgeable enough to carry out will writing to a high enough standard for consumers.
Rachael Rodgers, owner of Heir Tight Wills, said: “[The new scheme] for me is The Law Society holding its hands up to say there are quite a lot of our solicitor members who are writing wills but shouldn’t be. They are trying to differentiate between the good and the bad.”
She explained: “The fall-back of solicitors is that they ask you what you want to do and then do it. The amount of rubbish I’ve see that has been drafted by solicitors; yes, it would be valid, but it doesn’t go near what the client wants or needs.”
Rodgers, who campaigned in favour of regulation as a member of the Institute of Professional Willwriters, said she was disappointed by the Lord Chancellor’s decision, because it meant “cowboy” will writers were given another lifeline. But she claimed: “Regulation for regulation’s sake means nothing. It’s just a whole load of more red tape.”
Traditionally more expensive, lawyers are increasingly trying to attract business by switching to a fee-based structure similar to professional planners, which could heat up competition even more.
Standard Life head of customer wealth transfer Julie Hutchison said: “I’m hearing anecdotal evidence that more lawyers are moving to a fixed fee basis when writing wills, but practice is still mixed. I think they are responding to a market change. It’s more competitive.
“It’s a sign that they’re responding to concerns about fees and that they are trying to still engage people in doing a will and not be put off by price.”
Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson said all solicitors receive training in will writing and the overwhelming majority of them “are highly experienced lawyers who can provide individual wills to suit the needs of their clients”.
“Moreover, the breadth of their training enables solicitors to consider the full range of issues that may affect consumers and advise about all of the options,” Hudson added. “The needs of consumers will vary according to their individual circumstances and solicitors are well placed to advise them.”