The clients of wills and probate services need some form of redress for poor-quality services, according to the Chief Legal Ombudsman Adam Sampson.
The Law Society Gazette reported this week that the ombudsman has called for a service which will give clients in England and Wales a safety net if there are issues with a will. According to the article, will and probate issues accounted for some 13 percent of the 8,000 complaints resolved last year.
The complaints mainly centred on costs, delays or the failure of the lawyer to follow instructions. The article also revealed that there were a further 180,000 wills written last year by non-lawyers – but their complaints could not be covered by the legal ombudsman because the ombudsman is only allowed to look at complaints about regulated service providers.
The lack of regulatory oversight means thousands of people have nowhere to turn to if their will was poorly written or if they have been ripped off by the service provider.
Mr Sampson has called for regulators and representative bodies to work together to address the issues which are due to unreserved activity. He has suggested a voluntary scheme that unregulated providers can opt into.
The Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling chose not to make will writing a reserved activity last year – which was contrary to advice from the Legal Services Board. The board believes regulation would improve services for consumers.
Mr Sampson said: “Wills can be prepared by anyone in principle. For people on a budget, this creates headaches about the standard of service once could reasonably expect. It also means some people will have access to help if things go wrong, while others won’t.
“Failing a move to regulate all will writers, we want the government to at least consider a voluntary ombudsman scheme into which service providers can opt themselves. Provision already exists for the Lord Chancellor to make this happen.”
The legal ombudsman’s recommendation for a voluntary scheme comes from a report – Complaints in focus: Wills and probate, which suggests the options the government could take to address the problem. The voluntary scheme would mean that consumers could claim up to £50,000 in compensation if they felt charges had been excessive, instructions had not been followed or if other issues had arisen.
The move to set up a voluntary scheme is supported by the Society of Will Writers, a body that represents some 2,000 will writers in England and Wales.
The society’s chair, Nick Honeyman Brown, said: “The Society’s over-riding objective for all members is for all its members to provide consumers of will writing, trust and estate administration services with the certainty of obtaining a quality product, backed by real consumer protection.”
At Finders, most of the cases we deal with are where people have not left a will and thus it is our job to find the rightful beneficiaries to an estate. There are many reasons why people do not write a will, but legal costs can play their part – which is why it can be tempting to take up the option of a non-regulated provider.
As the legal ombudsman has pointed out, this can lead to its own issues and problems. We, therefore, would welcome any move that serves to give people redress for a poorly-written will or if they have been ripped off by an unregulated provider.