Why should I use a Lawyer and not a Will Writer?
I recently saw an online advert for a will writing service that charged just £15 for a Will. My initial thought was: if I bought a pair of shoes for £15 – I would expect them to last for a season, but probably not a year. If I bought a takeaway for £15 – I would expect it to taste alright, but not brilliant.
Wills are really important documents. How good is a Will going to be if it cost only £15? When paying for a Will – you are not paying for a page of paper with standard wording, but for the advice of someone who is trained and experienced.
Qualification and Experience
As a Wills, Trusts and Probate Solicitor I know exactly how much work goes into preparing a decent Will. My role is to meet clients and get to know them. We chat about their families, properties, finances, businesses and health. It is a personal process as I require a person’s background information to advise them properly. Wills can be straightforward, but they need to be tailored to a person’s specific circumstances. This can be for personal or financial reasons. In any case – really good quality advice is needed.
It takes a long time to train to be a lawyer. I studied Law for three years, then studied the Legal Practice Course for a year, and then trained at a law firm for two years and that was before I was allowed to take instructions from a client for the first time!
I also have to undertake Continuing Professional Development each year to keep up to date with ever-changing legislation and tax regimes. However, many Will Writers have no legal qualifications at all.
Lawyers, not Salespeople
Another reason why it is sensible to use a law firm is because solicitors have to abide by the Solicitor Regulation Authority’s Code of Conduct. The second principle of the code states that we must “act with integrity” and the fourth principle states that we have to “act in the best interests of each client”. Although some will writers adhere to a code of conduct, there is no requirement for them to do so, and many are simply sales people who will encourage you to buy products whether you need them or not.
I met a couple a few years ago who had been visited by a will writer at home who advised them that because they were going on holiday to Egypt they needed to make General Powers of Attorney in case “anything happened to them”. They were charged an additional £200 for these documents. A GPOA is a document made to temporarily appoint someone to deal with finances and legal matters (this is completely different to an Enduring Power of Attorney or a Lasting Power of Attorney). As a solicitor friend of mine later commented “unless you are Lord Sugar you probably don’t need a GPOA in place before going on a fortnight’s holiday”.
The will writer didn’t explain to them that the GPOAs were temporary (were they supposed to make new GPOAs before every annual holiday? Were they to add this to their holiday checklist: pack swimming trunks, buy sunscreen, make a new GPOA?). Besides, they had been poorly drafted (they had appointed only each other) and so would be more or less redundant (it would have been sensible to have appointed someone who remained in the UK). This is unfortunately a case in which a sales technique was disguised as legal advice.
Another benefit of using a solicitor is that if anything does go wrong, it is straight forward to make a complaint. This is unlikely as a You Gov poll showed that 90% of people surveyed who had instructed a solicitor to draft a Will were satisfied. However, if you are unhappy and you make a complaint directly to a law firm and are then dissatisfied with their response you can apply to the Legal Ombudsman.
Despite public support for it, there is no regulation of will writers. This means that if there is a problem with the Will produced by a will writer – there is very little you can do about it.
On a similar note, see my blog referring to Probate Companies here.
The other prominent reason why you should instruct a solicitor is the storage of the Will after it has been signed. Wills are usually stored for decades, so you need to ensure that they are in a safe place. Many law firms have strong rooms which are damp-proof, fireproof and burglar-proof. A lot of firms (such as Ellis Jones Solicitors) don’t charge for storing your Will. However, it is not unheard of for will writers to either store Wills in inadequate facilities such as barns or sheds or to charge additional annual fees for storage which can exceed the original fee for the Will itself.
If a will writing company goes out of business it can be difficult to find and retrieve your original Will. By contrast, if a law firm is taken over – the succeeding law firm will usually continue to store original documents and if the law firm has been closed down– the Solicitors Regulation Authority can help you to track your original documents.
In summary, you should always research your legal advisor and ensure that they are properly qualified and regulated before instructing them to act on your behalf.
If you would like to talk to one of our lawyers about making a Will (or Lasting Power of Attorney or Probate Services) please call one of our local offices or email the Wills, Trusts and Probate team.