Who is going to win ‘the race to the bottom’ on Wills?

For those of you finding themselves working from home and, like me, have the TV on for a bit of background noise, you may well have noticed the amount of charities offering free Wills (and even the odd life insurance provider offering a “free Will pack”) in what seems to be every other commercial. If it is not this, then it is the ever-increasing number of providers offering Wills for free or at very low-cost online.

Whilst all this is a very welcome reminder that people should have a Will and does make obtaining one more accessible (after all “a Will is better than no Will” to quote myself), it can devalue the benefit of proper advice, which usually leads to the right solution for the client being more than just a basic Will.

In fact, it makes me wonder when did under-advice become acceptable for Wills? Could you imagine it consciously happening on mass in conveyancing, family or criminal law?

Now of course a lot of free or low-cost Will offers are a ‘sprat to catch a mackerel’ and trusts, lasting powers of attorney, professional executorship and storage are recommended off the back of it. Indeed – if the offer is honoured, a reasonable fee is charged for any other post advice services (based both on a thorough understanding of the client’s circumstances and those of their beneficiaries) – what is wrong with that?

We, as an industry, should not sell ourselves short by undervaluing the advice we give and the benefits of it to the client’s estate.

Therefore, the main issue is actually when the Will is a ‘sprat’ to cross-sell other things such as funeral plans, life insurance and financial services, so there’s never any attempt to provide a document beyond one in its most simplistic form.

To the vast majority of clients a Will is a Will and even if they happen to be vaguely aware of Trusts, would most probably perceive them to be expensive, complicated and primarily for the types of people who dwell in Downton Abbey.

This makes managing expectations difficult, for both the execution only websites and those ultimately offering a fully advised service off the back of an offer, as even when there is reference to a “standard” or “basic” Will (which often isn’t the case), we may well know what that means, but invariably clients wouldn’t have a clue.

Whether online, face-to-face, telephone, videoconference, or a combination of these things, we have a professional duty to ensure every customer gets best advice, whether operating under a regulated or non-regulated banner.

Online customer journeys will improve over time of course (I haven’t audited all of them out there) and no doubt we will all be replaced by robots at some point. However, in the interim, it is important that systems invest in the fact-finds that ask the questions, that enable the triaging, that ensure those customers with needs beyond a basic Will are properly advised – as hybrid on-line to off-line (telephone or videoconference) customer journeys is inevitably where the majority of our sector will be migrating to in the coming years.

There are obviously other issues with online Wills which, to be fair are no different to paper based will-kits and telephone based services, but the issues of no identity or capacity checks, coercion, fraud and documents signed either incorrectly or not at all can wait for another day. However, it will be interesting to see what legal challenges and case law evolves over time on this and, potentially, client’s being under-advised.

So, whilst we are all competing in this industry of ours and pivot around different business models, customer journeys and promotional offers, who will be the ‘winner’ is hard to say, especially in such a fragmented market. However, if we are not careful, the ‘loser’ will be our clients and their beneficiaries who ended up with legal documents that were not appropriate to their circumstances and therefore not fit for purpose.

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