Wills and Trusts – Buyer Beware

Wednesday, 27 September 2023

The impact of badly written Wills and Trusts

STEP (the Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners) has recently released an alarming report about the impact of unregulated legal services in relation to Wills & Trusts. In May 2023, they sent out a survey to STEP’s UK members regarding unregulated Will writing.  Their report found that:

  • 79% of their members have come across cases of Wills with errors.
  • Over half (54%) highlighted their concerns about rogue firms making false claims about Wills leading to increased tax bills.
  • The majority of those surveyed (63%) have come across cases where a Will writing company has quoted a fee for writing a Will but then charged additional costs not covered within their terms of business.
  • Just over half (54%) have come across firms making false claims about the Wills they are selling to clients.  Of those, 71 members mentioned that advisors had wrongly told their clients that they could avoid care home fees by putting their home and other assets into a trust during their lifetime.  Some clients have been advised by them to gift their house during their lifetime.  Both of these are considered to be deliberate deprivation of assets and are ineffective for care assessment, which can lead to serious complications.
  • A third of those surveyed had come across cases where incompetent advice has led to significant tax bills, with examples of tax charges in many instances in the tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds and in a few cases up to £2million.

STEP’s report highlights the personal and emotional cost caused by flawed advice.  Their report gives such an example where an elderly woman and her husband were badly advised about how to pass on their property and business.  They set up unnecessarily complex legal structures after being incorrectly advised that this was necessary.  The woman is now widowed, and lives in fear of her nephew.  Their relationship broke down when he wrongly assumed that as a trustee of his aunt’s assets, he had control of them.  He has keys to her home and feels entitled to treat it as his own.

Their report finds that some Will-writing firms prey on vulnerable clients where hidden costs can often be hidden away in terms and conditions.  Some may not be apparent until after death, when families find themselves forced to use a specific company for the estate administration work at great cost.

The results of the survey clearly show the impact that badly written Wills and Trusts can have on families.  In another independent poll, of the 51% surveyed that actually had a Will, 44% had chosen a cheap online Will or had written their own.  Only 3% of those using an online Will provider had checked for qualifications.

Regulated legal professionals are required to:-

  • give the name of their regulator
  •  provide transparency in relation to fees,
  • hold professional indemnity insurance
  • have an in-house complaints process and enable dissatisfied clients to refer matters to an independent complaints commission.

The Law Society of Scotland has recently submitted evidence on the need for enhanced consumer protection to an investigation into unregulated legal services by the Competition and Markets Authority.  Kirsty Lang, Convener of the Law Society’s Consumer Law Committee, said “These unregulated services are a risky proposition for consumers if the service provider breaches consumer protection legislation….Some of the most vulnerable members of our society could be misled or mis-sold legal services from unregulated providers.  Consumers may be attracted to the price or convenience, but it’s leaving them at risk of significant harm and personal distress.”

Here at Stevenson & Marshall we have dealt with countless instances where clients have previously used Will writers who have put in place defective Wills or unnecessary and costly Trust arrangements. The preparation of Wills and estate planning is one of the most important legal arrangements you can make.  Make sure you get the right advice from a regulated solicitor with the requisite specialist skills and knowledge.  With a team of appropriately qualified, regulated and experienced solicitors, we can help at Stevenson & Marshall.

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