Industry regulator the Legal Services Board has today announced proposals to deliver better protection for will writers from "unacceptable service" that can be detrimental to legacy-giving.
The report Enhancing consumer protection, reducing regulatory restrictions: will-writing, probate and estate administration activities is a consultation document about the LSB‘s provisional recommendations on the regulatory approach to will-writing, and includes its findings about how poor will-writing services have resulted in charities missing out on funds intended to be bequeathed to them.
The Board’s investigation found that consumers are frequently targeted by “unfair sales practices”, and it has accumulated extensive evidence of “fraud and deception”. It intends to bring will-writing “in line with better regulation principles and ensure that appropriate protections are in place no matter who delivers the service”.
“It is clear that detriment will often be experienced by intended beneficiaries who receive less income than was intended or face significant legal costs and delays trying to put right errors or clarify ambiguities,” the LSB stated in the report.
“Detriments extend to charities as well as individuals. A third of the 140 member charities surveyed by Remember a Charity had experienced a negative impact as the result of a poorly-drafted will.”
Specifically, 11 per cent lost the legacy completely, 33 per cent received a reduced legacy and 48 per cent experienced a delay in receiving the legacy. A further 52 per cent reported incurring legal costs to sort out the problem.
The LSB's document also quotes the findings of the Institute of Legacy Management, which reports that many charities have had to write off legacies where legal fees would be needed to correct a problem incurred by inefficient will-writing.
Roland Rudd, founder of Legacy10, which encourages legacy giving, applauded the LSB's move.
“The number of people leaving a will in this country lags behind many of our peers," said Rudd. "I welcome the Legal Services Board findings and urge the legal profession to look at ways of reassuring and encouraging the public to make a will. Not only will this provide greater certainty for many families but also enhance a valuable source of funding for the charitable sector.
"The recent changes to inheritance tax, which I have been promoting, incentivises charities to persuade people to leave them a small part of their estate.”
Legacy consultant Richard Radcliffe told civilsociety.co.uk that a move like this is essential. “There are a lot of scumbags out there conning people into writing unsuitable wills,” said Radcliffe.
“Dodgy firms will use out-of-work actors to go door-to-door and bring in clients. This is obviously atrocious in terms of safeguarding, resulting in a situation where the will-writer has never met the client.
“The Charity Commission does provide helpful guidelines, recommending that people use firms accredited by the Institute of Professional Willwriters, but the will-writing industry has proved notoriously hard to regulate completely. So any move to increase regulation is a positive one.”
The full LSB document is available here, and the Board is welcoming views on its approach by Wednesday 16 July 2012.