Covid-19 has inevitably increased the demand for making a will and Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs). For those involved in this area of law, 2020 has been particularly challenging.
With the threat of ill health (or worse) there has been a dramatic rise in people wishing to make a will – but has it been enough to change the public’s views on making a will or has it merely pushed the already reluctant into considering a service they feel they still don’t need?
The issues with taking instructions and signing legal documents during lockdown and with social distancing has been well documented, but what about the rise in new clients making initial enquiries and then subsequently cancelling their appointments or instructions?
The ‘cancel culture’ is becoming an issue as businesses look to recover post-lockdown with customers in the hospitality sector cancelling restaurant reservations, takeaway orders or last-minute cancellations for holiday accommodation. There is public outcry when reports go viral but public dissatisfaction appears to be industry limited – is the legal industry immune to the same mindset that cancelling is acceptable?
Like many law firms, Alexander Legal Services experienced a rise in new clients this year. After a slow start to 2020 during the first lockdown, a summer will writing boom resulted in a 314% increase of new enquiries in July, compared to same period in 2019. Overall, 2020 has seen an increase of 16% in new clients seeking wills and LPAs.
However, what has also increased this year is the number of cancellations from new clients. Typically, it’s normal for a small number of new enquiries to cancel before or after their initial appointment. It’s even normal for a smaller number to cancel after their documents have been drafted and fees have been incurred.
Shockingly, while we received 16% more clients in 2020 than we did in 2019, this was offset by a cancellation rate of 22%. In contrast, the cancellation rate in 2019 was only 12%. Most clients cancelled after making an initial enquiry and booking an appointment, while a large amount cancelled after their appointment. A smaller, but significant number, cancelled after work was carried out, resulting in a loss of hundreds of pounds – collectively thousands.
Most legal services, like financial services, offer a free initial appointment on a no obligation basis. It’s generally expected by the public that practitioners will allow them the opportunity to learn more about their services, ask questions and then decide whether to instruct them, so it’s always a risk that some clients will choose not to proceed.
But what’s puzzling is why clients would change their mind in 2020, especially post-lockdown or why clients would start the process, receive a draft and then cancel without even facing the practicalities of trying to finalise their documents and sign them with social distancing in place.
Generating interest in will writing is always difficult, with preconceptions that refuse to disappear (such as a belief that a spouse will automatically receive everything, or you don’t need a will if you own no property) and a general (and understandable) reluctance for people to consider their mortality. Toni Ryder-McMullin reported on this website that Law Society research shows as many as 59% of UK adults did not have a will during the first lockdown.
But the need to make a will is not a secret – a lot of clients I meet for the first time say the same thing: ‘I’ve always meant to make a will but I keep putting it off’.
Even if 59% of adults don’t have a will, I believe a lot of them know how important it is to have one but factors such as money or an unwillingness to have a morbid conversation will continue to put them off until they experience intestacy.
So, going back to cancellations; perhaps the original reluctance or misconceptions are still a factor even after booking an appointment and discussing making a will. Perhaps the idea of completing a questionnaire which asks questions such as ‘Do you have a particular funeral wish?’ or ‘Who should be named as default beneficiary?’ are so off putting that it’s better to remain part of the 59%.
If this article was written by a restaurant or hotel owner explaining that 22% of customers cancelled after making a booking during the 2020, particularly post-lockdown and then into second lockdown, the public outcry would be deafening.
While the OPG have embarked on their long-awaited campaign to encourage more people to make an LPA, with Covid-19 far from over, will mindsets eventually change so that making a will becomes a more positive task to do?