“Unregulated” moniker unhelpful for consumers

The debate around the terminology used to describe unregulated will writers has been reignited by an article published on Today’s Wills and Probate in which a solicitor suggests consumers who have their will written by an unregulated will providers are “depriving themselves of quality legal advice.”

The comments were made in an article on Today’s Wills and Probate entitled “The Impact of an Inaccurate Will on the Probate Process” written by Zoe Pearse, an Associate at London-based Seddons Solicitors.

Since being published on social media, the comments have sparked backlash in the will writing community, many of whom have since commented on the post, and reached out to Today’s Wills and Probate. The sentiment is clear; the terminology simply reinforces the idea one is a moniker of better quality.

“In general, the tribalism of the “regulated/unregulated” is a detriment to the industry as a whole. And one I find incredibly tiresome. Personally, I believe there should be regulation, but that doesn’t mean there should be the negativity we see between the different areas.”

says Karl Taylor Head of Wills, Trusts & Probate at Norrie Waite & Slater Solicitors and a member of the Best Foundation Advisory Board.

“The use of “regulated / unregulated” is so unhelpful, because being regulated doesn’t guarantee a great service or that a client gets what they really need.

Says Nicola Combe, Director of Morecambe Bay Wills and Estate and a member of SWW Professional Standards Board.

We all know there are regulated firms who do an amazing job and regulated firms that don’t! And exactly the same applies to those who are unregulated, the vast majority of which belong to the 3 main organisations which provide a form of “voluntary regulation” – SWW, IPW and Best. Their many thousands of member firms are meeting entrance criteria, adhering to strict codes of conduct, ensuring they have proper insurance in place, undergoing annual audits and completing a huge amount of ongoing training.

Kieran Osborne of Squiggle Consult agrees

Using the terms “regulated” and “unregulated” as blanket indicators of quality can be misleading. There are several key factors clients should consider when choosing a will writing professional, and regulatory status is just one of them. Voluntary affiliations with reputable organisations such as The Society of Will Writers, the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW), Best Foundation, and STEP can provide significant assurances of quality and professionalism.

He also points to the level of focus, experience and expertise developed through specialising in a single area of law as an important indicator of credibility for consumers. Comments acknowledge poor practice exists in both spaces; there are poor practices and practitioners in the solicitor community as there are within the will writing.

“Recognising that issues can exist on both sides highlights the need for clients to make informed decisions based on a comprehensive evaluation of various factors including experience, qualifications, client reviews, and the level of service provided.”

Adds Osborne. He also points to the level of focus, experience and expertise developed through specialising in a single area of law as an important indicator of credibility for consumers. Comments acknowledge poor practice exists in both spaces; there are poor practices and practitioners in the solicitor community as there are within the will writing.

Amy Peters, a Director at Beneficial Trust & Will Co and IPW Willwriter of the Year says

“There are always the rogues in every sector unfortunately, but if we can educate the public to research with whom they are entrusting their final wishes, we’ll inch ever closer to less consumer risk and more effective estate planning. It’s not unusual for people to put more time into researching a holiday than who they chose to write their will, but maybe by providing a framework for them to utilise which considers credentials, experience and reputation perhaps we can turn the tide.”

Kieran Osborne adds.

“Recognising that issues can exist on both sides highlights the need for clients to make informed decisions based on a comprehensive evaluation of various factors including experience, qualifications, client reviews, and the level of service provided.”

In Karl Taylor’s view, it is a minority sentiment, albeit one that damages the sector.

“We should be vocal about driving up standards, good practice, integrity – but not by denouncing Private Client Solicitors, or non-solicitor Will Writer/Estate Planners; be that the sole practitioner, SMEs or the larger organisations.  Thankfully the vast majority in this industry want to provide an accessible service with first-rate advice to clients and their families. “

A sentiment echoed by Nicola Combe who issues a rallying call for the sector to do away with the unhelpful regulated/unregulated moniker saying

“Let’s talk about the things that really matter – integrity, suitability and experience, and loving what we do with a passion that shines through! And let’s ensure we continue to raise standards together, not drive wedges where they aren’t needed.”

18 responses

  1. The fact that qualified lawyers don’t seem to differentiate between will writers and regulated lawyers is beyond baffling to me: there is an ocean between someone who has completed a basic three-day course in how to write a legal will and passed a basic test to gain membership to IPWW or SWW and someone who has years of legal study and training and works in a regulated environment.

    Joe Bloggs Wills and Trusts Ltd can write 3000 dreadful wills and simply close the company and that’s that. No run off, no professional reputation to be concerned about. The two WW near me write dangerous Wills and blight the lives of bereaved spouses who have a terrible mess to clear up. WW should be regulated and the fact that some Solicitors draft Wills without care for personal experience means something needs to change in their ability to turn their hand to any type of law regardless of experience or knowledge, not stop regulation altogether.

    There is a massive difference between an experienced specialist lawyer working in private client and a will writer. STEP is as far away from a WW again – that’s an intense years long study route.

      1. I should revise this, not one of the people commenting above is a lawyer! One works in a law firm. Its like the members of ‘the institute of fox feeding wellness’ society writing an article on the harm caused by and lack of necessity for chicken cages.

  2. There is also the issue that there are not many authorised regulatators and this is not the fault of the Will-writer. If IPWW or SWW were allowed to be regulators “unqualified” but legally competent Will Writers would be covered.

  3. @ALawyer – How is the view from your Ivory Tower?
    The regulation question is largely irrelevant – there are hundreds if not thousands of regulated lawyers out there who have never done a days Private Client work in their life but are ‘regulated’ to write Wills. ‘Regulated’ Wills have given me some of the greatest headaches throughout the last 19 years of pure private client work.
    I am not regulated formally, but I am STEP qualified, I teach private client law to Solicitors and trainee solicitors and run one of the best (award winning) paralegal law firms in the country.
    The question of regulated or not is and always has been the wrong question. The real questions – and there are two – should be: Qualified or not? and what is the access to consumer redress?
    The first is easy, the second is where the sector representative bodies fall down and is an opportunity sadly missed in the latest CMA report. If there was mandatory membership of a representative body that offered real access to redress then many of the problems in the sector would simply melt away as the cowboys saddled up their horses and went to look for pastures new.
    Before you make high handed comments do your research and look at the real work that is being done in the sector to drive out unqualified and unscrupulous players. Always remember some of the biggest recent scandals have been regulated firms not unregulated ones.

    1. I think STEP qualified, as in TEP, is as good personally. But you make a valid point, qualified is the key here. But it’s extremely easy to become a ‘professional qualified will writer’ and the solicitors who have no experience are just as bad, even worse, but at least there is a firm to back these things up. Or the SRA compensation fund.

      The terms used in this industry as so confusing it could only be sold as a points system. WW – 1 point, top lawyer big firm, specialist for ten years – 10 points.

      I understand professional will writers enjoy their status, as for little outlay they get treated as lawyers by lots of their clients. Must feel great. For those of us who spent years studying this subject, are regulated and spent serious time and money qualifying and obtaining TEP (7/8 years for me), it’s devastating that we are thought of as the same.

  4. I have seen several similar postings on various sites where Solicitors have berated professional Will writers / Estate Planners including the Solicitor who appeared on the ‘This Morning ‘ programme earlier this year, where he clearly stated that Will writers attend a 3 day course and are somehow qualified to write Wills, yet solicitors, like him study for 7 years to qualify, inferring that they study for the whole 7 years covering Wills. When I started in this industry, I attended a 5 day residential course, provided by a company who I then worked for, with continuing training etc. and subsequently progressing through various companies providing ongoing training and obtaining recognised qualifications. There are good and bad companies, solicitors and estate planners etc, unfortunately in this industry, but it is wrong to tar all with the same ‘brush’. I have seen many clients who have previously been dealt with by Solicitors, previously and their particular estate planning requirements had not been covered / prepared correctly, with Solicitors failing to prepare the correct paperwork etc. for them. I am a qualified member of CILEX, IPW & SWW and STEP-affiliate and an independent member of the BEST foundation, providing a professional service to ALL clients. I do not offer ‘cheap or free’ Wills. People automatically assume that because a Solicitor is regulated by the SRA they are the ‘go to’ provider for Wills. Many professional Estate Planners / Will writers are ‘regulated by the professionally recognised bodies. The public fail to understand that it is the ‘product’ (WILLS) that is not regulated, either provided by a Solicitor or Estate Planner. People, should checkout, FULLY, either a Solicitor or Will writer before they engaged with them to prepare their documents.

    1. You are right, there are very bad solicitors who write wills. I worked with one and he didn’t even know about the Wills Act.
      But you are casting aspersions as to who I am and what qualifications I have, but with all due respect your published credentials are misleading the public, if this is correct. You have entry level membership to CILEX and STEP. ACILEX is available to those beginning study, and STEP affiliate is the bottom rung of the STEP ladder whereby you have just started that journey. They don’t actually mean any expertise, study or training. Fully qualified CILEX are lawyers, full TEPs are highly trained. You may just be on the cusp of those things of course, but the fact that wrote this next to your name means that you thing these things mean something. They do, but only for those who actually possess the qualifications.

      I am a ten year qualified, regulated lawyer who has always specialised in this area of law. If you complete your studies, and work for a further ten years after doing so, you may look back and consider you were wrong. This area of law required all of the study, and the WW stuff is first week trainee level.

      1. Actually, found you now. You seem may wish to check with CILEX if a IOP member can claim to be ‘qualified members of CILEX.’

        You may also wish to check with STEP as you have used a badge on your website (they may send these out to affiliates, I do not know, but I think unlikely) but only TEPs are allowed to use the STEP logo in any form.

      2. And, lastly lastly lastly, IPWW and SWW are NOT REGULATORY BODIES. Regulatory bodies are totally different and membership cannot be obtained by taking an entry level course and an open book exam.

  5. As a Will Writer and Estate Planner, I would welcome some form of regulation. I certainly don’t believe that Solicitors automatically write better Wills than Will Writer as, in general, it’s not their full-time specialism. In fairness some Will Writers Wills are questionable. The “get your Will for £49 companies” certainly need regulating as the price is always a lost leader, as are the “Charity Wills for Free” companies. One client I currently have, was charged £4300 for a “free” WIll with products added they just didn’t need. They are waiting for a refund. All this does is remove confidence in the power of a will and associated people, which does nobody any good, especially the client who then decides not to write a will at all. Self-regulating bodies also don’t help as they don’t sing from the same sheet and have no real power. Overall, a central standard that covers everyone who writes Wills needs to be created and implemented. However, whatever the regulation, it should be affordable to take onboard and not a money maker for a “body”. As for a solicitor who denigrates Will Writers for lack of Legal advice, You’ve lost my respect automatically. Judging by our local solicitors who charge £250 for a meeting, and an additional £250 for a single Will, I don’t know how they sleep at night.

    1. Christian, do you have premises and staff? These things are expensive and the outlay therefore has to be recouped. Professional indemnity insurance for regulated firms is in the thousands if not tens of thousands, and regulation has costs too for the regulator as well as the auditing processes.

  6. As others have said, regulated does not automatically mean good. I recently discovered that the (very large and established) solicitor’s practice that wrote property trust Wills for my parents failed to sever the tenancy at Land Registry. They compounded this error by not rectifying it when carrying out probate.

    1. Well lets imagine this is a limited company and the last business the owner had was a barber, and he thought – that seems like a lot of hassle I think I’ll just go back to being a barber. Shut the company down, miss the next months premium for insurance and you have no redress.

      Your large and established firm will have to rectify the problem and there is no way they will simply shut down, and if they did, you have the regulator and the compensation fund. Of course its a complete pain, and I feel for you, but thank goodness this shoddy work was carried out by a regulated firm.

  7. I have had the opportunity to work at two solicitors and with Will writers. I have found both to do equally good work. I would say do your research just like you would when engaging a tradesman for your house. There are good and bad in every industry but please stop stereotyping. I have worked hard to get where I am today and I am proud of that fact. This is borne out by the recommendations that I receive. These comments only prove to be detrimental to the industry as a whole. I would welcome being regulated and have done all that I can to achieve this within the constraints of an unregulated sector.

  8. Actually Nick I’ve just looked your firm up, very nice website.

    You sell property protection trusts? This to me is a huge red flag. I do not know a single lawyer who would touch them. Every person who has one regrets it intensely and the fact that anyone would think they are a good idea baffles me.

    Can I ask how you write lifetime property trusts without being regulated?

  9. It is telling that others assume that people opposing their view from an ‘ivory tower’ are not well read on the subject. I am as much of an expert in legal regulation as it is possible to be as a non-regulator. I know the ins and outs of the legal services act, I know what are and are not reserved legal activities, I know who all the regulators are, the work they regulate and who. I also know that there seems to be little enforcement and that unregulated outfits draw up deeds of trust, lifetime property trusts and the associated paperwork as well as make court applications when they are not authorised to do so, and therefore risk being imprisoned. None of these companies could get regulated as those who run them do not possess the qualifications that are required to even make an application. If my qualifications and status as a qualified, regulated lawyer makes you think I look down on you, then that is a you problem not a me problem. If you are unable to make the grade, study and qualify rather than assume it does not matter and try and force the whole legal sector down so you measure up. This is not a complete bashing one way, Solicitors should not practise in areas they have not worked and been trained in to a high level. That needs addressing in house, but in truth it should be covered by the fact that regulated lawyers make oath and say that they will act in the best interests of the client, and can be disciplined for not doing so. That’s me out.

Read more stories

Join over 6,000 wills and probate practitioners – Check back daily for all the latest news, views, insights and best practice and sign up to our e-newsletter to receive our weekly round up every Friday morning. 

You’ll receive the latest updates, analysis, and best practice straight to your inbox.