July 29 2014 Latest news:

The writing of wills is set to be more closely monitored amid claims the industry suffers from “systemic problems” and “consistent patterns of sloppiness, simple errors and poor communication”.

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A proposal by the Legal Services Board (LSB) – the body that oversees legal services in England and Wales – would see all will-writing and estate-administration services regulated, in a bid to offer greater consumer protection.

The LSB said the problems within the industry often resulted in “unacceptable service”, with some customers “subjected to unfair sales practices” and others the victims of “fraud and deception”.

“Making a will is something everyone should do. It is one of the most important actions that individuals take,” said LSB chairman David Edmonds.

“We all should have a degree of confidence in those entrusted with the task of writing our wills, advising us on the most appropriate actions, and ensuring that our wishes are carried out.

“The measures announced by the LSB should reassure consumers that they will be more effectively protected.”

The proposal received a thumbs-up from the law sector, which has long warned about the risks of using unregulated will-writers.

“When there is a problem with a will, it is often not discovered until after death, at a time when the family are grieving and having to deal with the practicalities of managing the deceased’s affairs,” said Paula James, a partner at law firm Thomas Eggar.

“There is no obligation on unregulated will-writers to keep and produce, on the request of the family, information and files so that the deceased’s intentions and the circumstances surrounding the will-making process can be investigated.

“Indeed, it can be difficult or impossible to trace an unregulated will-writer years after the will was prepared.

“When things do go wrong and the unregulated will-writer is at fault, there may be no insurance policy in place to protect the affected family.”

Mr Edmonds, at the LSB, said: “For many people, the service they receive from their lawyer or will-writer meets their needs. But our research shows that there are significant numbers of people receiving poor service and poor outcomes.

“We found too many examples of providers – lawyers and will-writers alike – not listening to their clients or being sloppy in their work, meaning those taking the important step of writing a will were also, unfortunately, leaving problems to their beneficiaries.

“[These measures] should reassure consumers that they will be more effectively protected.”

A consultation on the LSB proposal will run until the middle of July.

Tom Lawrence, an expert on wills and estate planning at law firm Howes Percival, said: “Clearly, there is still some way for this to go before it ends up on the statute book. However, it seems now to be moving in the right direction.

“This move follows the Scottish government’s action to regulate will-writing in 2010 and mounting pressure to follow suit in an industry where many feel the issues around the quality of wills and poor sales practices in an unregulated sector are becoming more of a problem.

“Errors in will-drafting cause serious and, in the worst cases, insurmountable problems when it comes to dealing with a testator’s estate. The end result is often substantially increased costs coupled with uncertainty, heartache and distress for the testator’s family at an already deeply distressing time.

“Making a will is likely to be one of the most important ‘transactions’ you ever undertake. Its effect on your family and friends could be devastating if it’s not done properly.

“As a result, there is no margin for error.”

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