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Thousands of consumers are ripped off by unregulated will-writers every year

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Unregulated will writing companies 'rip-off thousands’ of consumers every year, according to the legal ombudsman.

In his first annual report Chief Ombudsman, Adam Sampson, has called on the government to deal with the practices of companies offering unregulated services such as will writing via the internet. He said these clouded the landscape for consumers of legal services

The recommendations were backed by consumer organisation Which? and the Law Society which warned of unregulated companies that bundle legal services with financial services and other products as posing a serious danger for consumer protection.

Sampson said, "One service which crops up a lot is will-writing.It's a service carried out often by will writing firms who aren't regulated. Because of this, customers are left with little means of redress when things go wrong.

Regulation is needed

"We've seen similar confusion about claims management companies, with lots of consumers believing they're getting a legal service even though most of the work is carried out by a non-authorised person. Again, we can't help."

According to the ombudsman’s statistics, his office had been contacted by 38,155 people since it opened late last year and accepted 3,768 cases for investigation; 13% of those complaints involved will writing.

"Some firms offer 'expert' online legal advice which is often bundled with financial or insurance services, and many of these are backed by large corporations. Naturally, consumers expect the same standard of care as from their local lawyer, but in some cases it's woefully lacking.

"Things aren't helped by many unregulated companies masquerading as traditional law firms, branded with more legal wigs and gowns than you can shake a quill pen at."

Will writers to be investigated

On 14 July the Legal Service Board announced a statutory investigation into the will writing market after a mystery shopping exercise revealed malpractice among some unregulated firms.

An estimated 180,000 wills are written each year by unregulated services, and Dr Dianne Hayter, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said a will could have huge personal and financial consequences for families.

Speaking as the investigation was announced she said: "It is vital that advisers do a competent job, especially since any defects are unlikely to be discovered until it is too late to fix them."

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said the government would await the results of the investigation.

Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society for England and Wales, said: "The gap in regulation which allows unregulated cowboys to operate in areas like will-writing does not just cause unfair competition to solicitors, who provide a regulated, professional service. It is also damaging to consumers because the unregulated providers are not insured, do not provide a compensation fund and are not covered by the Legal Ombudsman's scheme for consumer redress."

Wills must be properly drafted

Pearson Hinchliffe Solicitors Private Client department head, John Pearson, commented, “In our work as specialist solicitors dealing in wills, numerous people have come to us after they or their loved one has had a will drafted by an unqualified practitioners which has not reflected their true intentions. When a death occurs this can causes untold anguish for the family at an already difficult time. The whole area of wills, inheritance and trusts is a complex and subtle legal field and I cannot stress highly enough how important it is that a person’s will is properly drafted with complete legal expertise and forethought.”

‘The best possible service’

John Pearson added, “Solicitors are obliged to be totally clear and transparent about cost from the outset and have the necessary training to ensure the advice they give is accurate and appropriate for the individual client. Each will is as different as the client who will eventually rely on it, so it is incumbent on the solicitor to provide detailed personal advice rather than a blanket approach. This is particularly relevant to Pearson Hinchliffe which, being regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, has a team that have specialist qualifications and ongoing training in order to offer the best possible service.”

Contacting us

Pearson Hinchliffe Solicitors are specialists in all aspects of wills and trusts. We can provide you with a quotation over the telephone and also offer family wills, mirror wills for spouses and storage and registration on the Certainty National Will Register as part of our comprehensive service.

Please contact us using the details provided below.

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

This blog was posted some time ago and its contents may now be out of date. For the latest legal position relating to these issues, get in touch with the author - or make an enquiry now.

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