Will writers' lasting legacy
An investigative report by the BBC Panorama programme into Will writers was broadcast on 9 August and it highlighted many of the dangers people face when instructing Will writers as opposed to solicitors to prepare their Wills.
The key points to emerge were as follows:
- Will writers are unregulated. In contrast, all solicitors firms are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and all solicitors have to have comprehensive indemnity insurance in place.
- Some Will writing firms are charging not only for the preparation of Wills but also for the provision of probate services which they will provide in the future. The charges for these future services may amount to thousands of pounds. We at Gullands never charge for the provision of future legal services. When we are instructed to administer an estate by the personal representatives, our retainer letter makes clear the basis on which we will charge for so doing.
- Some Will writers charge for storing documents. At Gullands, we make no such charges.
- All solicitors are subject to very strict rules about the retention of clients’ money. Each client’s money must be kept separate from all other clients’ money and must also be kept separate from the firm’s own money. If any cheque issued by a firm of solicitors were to bounce, this would be a serious disciplinary matter and could result in sanctions being imposed on that firm by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. In contrast to this, the Panorama programme highlighted two separate instances where cheques issued by a firm of Will writers who were administering estates had bounced.
- The Panorama programme highlighted instances where beneficiaries were unable to obtain proper financial reports on the monies which had been paid into an estate. Whenever we are instructed to administer an estate, we would always prepare estate accounts at the conclusion of the administration of the estate which would account for every penny received by us. These estate accounts would be subject to approval by the personal representatives and we would send copies of the accounts to the residuary beneficiaries for their information.
The Panorama programme made disturbing viewing for any solicitor involved in the preparation of Wills and estate administration. Our view at Gullands is that the public is well served by professional, well regulated lawyers such as ourselves. The programme made clear that anybody who chooses to use Will writers may be doing so at their peril.