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Watchdog probe into online wills and quickie divorces

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched a consultation into unregulated online legal services such as will-writing, pre-paid probate services and quickie divorces.

The CMA is keen to hear about people’s experiences with firms offering these services, over concerns that not all are complying with consumer protection law.

The watchdog pointed out that alternative providers often offer services that are innovative and convenient for consumers, as well as cheap. But where they are unregulated, it’s even more important that normal consumer protection laws are complied with and enforced.

The CMA has three main areas of concern:


The CMA said consumers can be misled by advertising which offers will-writing for a low initial fee for advice but does not indicate that final costs can increase significantly.

The regulator also has concerns about “potentially unfair contract terms”, such as exclusions of liability, failure to provide cancellation rights, and terms which automatically appoint the firm as executor (often for a fee).

Pre-paid probate plans

This is a new development in the market where customers pay a set fee upfront for probate (the legal process of managing someone’s estate when they die).

They do so in the hope that, following their death, their families will not be required to pay anything else. But the CMA is concerned that pressure selling techniques are being used on elderly and other vulnerable people and about a lack of transparency about what costs are covered.

Online divorce

So-called ‘quickie’ divorce services have grown in popularity since lockdown. But the CMA has concerns about misleading claims about both the simplicity of the process and prices, and an inadequate quality of service, including firms using the wrong forms, and not communicating efficiently with customers.

Unregulated services

Sarah Cardell, CMA chief executive, said: “These services are essential to people, often at the most challenging times in their lives. The CMA is aware that rising living costs mean people are watching their spending, so shopping around for a more affordable option is attractive and sometimes a necessity.

“These may not be frequent purchases, but they are life-changing. That’s why it’s so important that we investigate so that people can select the right legal service for them – for divorce or probate or will-writing – with confidence. It’s essential that firms get the basics right, including complying with general consumer law which applies to all traders. Customers must get a fair deal.”

Sarah Coles, head of personal finance at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Online legal services have opened up cost-effective and efficient routes to get help with some of the toughest legal challenges we face. However, unfortunately, they’ve also flung the door open to unscrupulous rip off firms, which could leave us far worse off. The CMA has found some worrying practices and opened a consultation to explore how to better protect people.

“Many of the services that we traditionally ask a solicitor for help with can actually be done by anyone – like divorce, will writing and probate. It means that technically we can tackle it alone, and if we want a bit of help without the cost of a lawyer, we can go to an unregulated adviser. There are some innovative and effective firms operating in this area, however, unfortunately, there are also some rip-off companies too.”