Will-writing is not a regulated activity. And the Government has decided that it does not intend to regulate Will writing. So, anyone can do it, though not all are sufficiently qualified or experienced to do it well.
We have listed (in order of priority) the issues we think you need to consider when choosing your advisor:
The terms and conditions the Will-writing service is provided to you on;
The experience of the people who will be advising you;
Whether the firm is regulated (and whether that matters to you);
The insurance the firm has in place.
The status of the advisors participating in Will For Good.
Bequeathed is not regulated. Our Solicitor, Sindy Allen qualified as a Solicitor in 2006, specialising in all aspects of private client law, including tax, trusts, Wills, Powers of attorney, Court of protection and Administration of estates. Sindy is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), a fully accredited member of Solicitors for the Elderly, Dementia Friend and Bequeathed are permitted by the SRA to employ her.
Our Solicitor supervises our paralegal team who advise users who sign our Client Care Letter. She is also permitted by the SRA to provide additional and specialist legal advice herself.
Our solicitor is subject to all of the duties of a solicitor which you can find at https://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/standards-regulations/code-conduct-solicitors/
Professional Will Writers
Professional Will Writers are not regulated but are subject to the same duties as solicitors: as they only deal with wills and estates, they can be real specialists in their field.
We work with Professional Will Writers who are members of the Best Foundation (British Estates Succession and Trust Practitioners) because of:
the qualification and experience requirements they have for a Will Writer or Solicitor to join;
the Member Code of Conduct designed to protect consumers like you; and
their unique Client Guarantee for the unlikely situation when something goes wrong.
We also work with will-writing firms, like Accord Legal Services, whose owners/managers are fully qualified TEP and subject to the STEP Will Writing Code.
Our other law firms
We also work with regional firms of Solicitors from whom you may take legal advice.
Each of these firms is regulated by the SRA and each has different processes that it will apply to taking you on as a client and delivering its service to you.
The importance of terms and conditions
The advice that is provided from any Solicitor or Professional Will Writer depends on the terms and conditions they offer to you when you order their service.
It is worth noting that there is no minimum level of advice required by law or by any regulator. Don't assume you are getting full legal advice, or any legal advice at all. Some services are no more than a supplier of documents. That is not the case with Bequeathed where the provision of legal advice is included as part of our service and client retainer in each case.
Whoever you ask to write your Will, always check the small print for what is and is not included. Look for and ask about limitations, particularly with online Will writers who offer legal checks or legal reviews.
When you choose Bequeathed to advise you, our terms will be set out in the Client Care Letter that you will receive when you book a video appointment. You will need to sign that before any appointment with us.
Our client care letter includes all of the minimum steps we regard as being normally expected of a professional advising someone making a Will and which we promise to take in the free legal appointment. It also sets out the issues on which we will not advise and which require additional legal advice, which may need to be paid for.
We require that the same minimum level of advice is provided to a user by each of our accredited legal firms. (But, again, do check the contract or retainer letter that you are asked to sign by those firms.)
Also, bear in mind, that if there is an issue with the Will/advice you receive, it will only come to light once you die and and any loss will be suffered not by you, but by your beneficiaries.
Your advisor is liable to your beneficiaries for the advice provided to you. But only to the extent the advisor was liable to you under the original terms and conditions. If the terms for writing your Will exclude liability or limit what will and will not be done for you, then your beneficiaries may find they are unable to claim.
Read the small print. Ensure you know what is and is not included. Our Solicitor at Bequeathed would be more than happy to explain this and deal with any questions you may have further.
Regulation can be important, particularly if something goes wrong. However, many people assume regulation means quality. Unfortunately, that is not always true.
For example, you might take advice from a regulated law firm but the person delivering the advice may spend most of their time doing, say, conveyancing and have relatively little experience of Will writing.
Or you may take advice from an unregulated Professional Will Writer who is extremely experienced and holds qualifications from an organisation like STEP.
Always ask about the experience and qualifications of the person advising you, and the team behind them.
The video legal appointments conducted by our inhouse legal team are handled by our paralegal team. All of our paralegals hold a minimum of a law degree; most have post-graduate law qualifications and receive regular, consistent training and supervision from our Solicitor.
When you are advised by one of our legal firms, ask about the experience of the person you are speaking with.
Regulation and when it is important in Will writing
If the terms and conditions limit the advice to be provided, the fact that the firm is regulated does not give you any additional legal protection.
If the person providing the advice is inexperienced, the fact that the firm is regulated doesn't make it any less likely they will make a mistake.
So, the key difference between receiving Will writing advice from a regulated law firm and or an unregulated firm therefore relates to complaints, insurance and compensation.
If you take advice from a firm or individual that is regulated, then you may complain to the Legal Ombudsman about any advice you receive.
At Bequeathed, we also have our own complaints process which you can find at Clause 12 of the Terms of Business you accept when you register: https://www.bequeathed.org/p/terms-of-business.
STEP has a Disciplinary Process to deal with complaints made about its members who are alleged to have breached its Code.
Best Foundation has a Member Code of Conduct and a Client Guarantee when handling your complaint.
You may also claim on the SRA Compensation Fund in respect of any advice you receive from a regulated firm or regulated solicitor.
While we are obliged by the SRA to point that out, we do not believe the SRA Compensation Fund would be available to your beneficiaries in respect of advice from a regulated firm either. That right is yours, and you would not be alive to enforce it. But if this is important to you, you should check with the SRA.
If something has gone wrong, and your beneficiaries successfully make a claim against your advisor, then it is likely they will only receive damages if there is an insurance company to pay.
At Bequeathed, we have professional indemnity insurance cover of £2m with Hiscox to meet claims made in the current policy year. We do not have what is known as "run-off cover". The means, that if we were not trading at the point at which your friends/family did want to make a claim then there would be no insurance available to meet their claim.
The SRA minimum insurance requirements for our partner legal firms who are regulated are complex. If they are important to you then you should read them at https://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/standards-regulations/indemnity-insurance-rules/.
However, our understanding is that regulated law firms are required to have a minimum of £2m insurance including for a period (7 years) after a firm stops trading.
But do remember, the legal right of your beneficiaries to claim against your advisors for losses caused by negligent advice (which is different to a claim on the SRA Compensation Fund) is limited by the terms and conditions you sign when you make your Will.
If the terms and conditions mean the advisor is not liable, then it doesn't matter what insurance is place: there will be no damages payable.
So, read those terms and conditions. Check the small print. Ask questions to ensure you know what you are and are not getting.
Ask if the advice you are to receive is limited in any way compared to what would normally be expected of a solicitor or professional advising someone to make their Will.
Then, ensure the person advising you knows what they are doing, so there is less chance of a mistake being made in the first place. Ask about their legal training, legal qualifications and the supervision in place of the work they do and their ongoing professional development.
Finally, consider the regulated status of the firm or person advising you and the different types of insurance arrangements should your beneficiaries need to claim.