Today’s Wills and Probate Feature: Campaign for Best Practice and Quality Will Writing – November 9

Following on from this article and the article by the same author which preceded this, prompted me to put pen to paper (metaphorically) in response to the articles to put forward my personal views and comments using my experience as the Director General of the Society of Will Writers.

Having been involved as a Will Writer for over 30 years and the past 23 years with the Society I have seen a lot of people come and go, and not just members.

In the early days, like any other growing profession, there were a lot of rogues who saw Wills as a ‘get rich quick scheme’, and sought to bring the profession into disrepute by their actions. There have been many cases over the years of will writing individuals (and companies) who, through their actions saw elderly clients as an easy target.

Through more stringent vetting at application stage, I’m not sure there are any in the profession today, but I do feel that we are better equipped now at spotting them early, and hopefully dealing with them, and together through our relationship with the police and local Trading Standards offices more rogues have been brought to justice and enjoyed time at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Going through changes

I agree with the author that there has never been a time when clients, especially those with complex lifestyles needed the help and assistance of a professional to advise them.

However, I don’t necessarily agree that the profession is reluctant to change. I don’t agree with the view that regulation solves all the issues and I don’t agree with the introduction of regulation simply for regulation sake – the level of government intervention needs to be proportionate to the problem, and that, I feel, is what was behind Chris Grayling’s decision in 2013.

The importance of regulatory standards

The Society has invested thousands over the years in training facilities and education, as well as introducing compulsory PII and annual CPD requirement which itself is one of the most stringent in the legal profession.

The Society has also introduced a public indemnity scheme, and every member has to date made a compulsory contribution. The creation of this fund guarantees that any client of a Society member who having paid for services, fails for whatever reason, the Society will appoint another member to act for the client. No client of a Society member should lose money just because the member in question has died, taken ill or has become insolvent.

The Society encourages its members to carry their membership identity card and to use the Society’s logo on all their literature as a matter of course. The ID cards also carry the Society’s free phone help line should the client want to check up on their credentials – and they do.

To further the Society’s aims, in 2016, the Society created the Professional Standards Board, to oversee the standards being set by the Society and to ensure members are adhering to them, to review regularly the Code of Practice and the Practice Notes produced by the Society for the members and the consumer.

The value of training

From the very start of the Society in 1994, the Society offered distance learning courses, at a time when life was still much simpler than it is today, and it was not until the end of 1996, when the Society relocated its head office to Lincoln that the classroom based courses were introduced.

Due to increasing demand in January 2014, the Society under its brand The College of Will Writing, opened its own training centre in Lincoln and during this time over 2000 students have attended the College for both induction courses to advance tax and trust courses. The Society has always held training and education at the very heart of what we do. It is constantly shown that properly trained professionals do much better that those that are poorly trained.

Induction courses, the SWWEPP Certificate Course is held every month of 3 or 4 days duration and is regularly oversubscribed. All new applicants to the SWW, if they cannot demonstrate their qualifications are required to provide proof of proficiency and may choose to go through the College as part of their membership application process.

Difficulties with differentiation

There are still consumers who see Will making as only being available through solicitors, but that market is changing and as more people enter the Will Writing profession so does our market share. Will Writers provide a service that is not normally offered by solicitors, and that is flexibility of appointments. Most Society members offer appointments in the comfort and privacy of the consumers own home and at times when both parties can be available, mainly evenings and weekends.

I suppose one should ask the question, “is there any difference when it comes to advising on Will?”.

Probably not where the individual can demonstrate their competence, and I do agree with Stephen’s contribution in the article that just because this is how it’s always been done does not make it right, irrespective of how long you’ve been doing it.

Probably, if questioned most solicitors, would have to admit that their knowledge of private client work is out of date, we see this regularly from the applications we receive from retiring solicitors. Just because you are, or have been, a solicitor does not mean you have the knowledge or experience. One thing in the professional Will Writers advantage is that as it’s a relatively young profession and has only seriously begun to grow in the past 10 years or so their knowledge is likely to be up to date. I can only speak though on behalf of Society members there are still a lot who we know nothing about.

Price transparency

This is very much in the “news” at the moment. Most professional Will Writers who are Society members we can say do provide some transparency as to pricing, mainly on their websites, but as it can never be known what the full extent of the consumer’s needs, it would be impossible on a web site or even in a letter to give anything other than a guide. The Society’s Code of Practice makes it clear that the costs should be stated and agreed prior to beginning the work.

In summary

In summary, I think the article on the 9 November was fair and balanced, and I would welcome the opportunity to meet with other contributors to such articles as well as representatives from the Law Society and the other regulators.

The idea that professional Will Writers are a disaster waiting to happen, is long gone, we have been around now producing Wills and Powers of Attorney for 30 years, Will Writers are generally responsible people doing a first-class job, providing a living for themselves and their families whilst at the same time ensuring that the consumer is protected.

Of course, things go wrong from time to time, but again Will Writers are not only professional but also business people and should understand that the world does not owe them a living and that every penny must be earned and as a member of the Society they need to be ethically and morally sound.

Please note these are the views of the Director General and not necessarily those of the Society or individual members

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