Will Writing and regulation

There are two questions that I am regularly asked to comment on.; 1) at 67 and after 24 years as DG what is my exit strategy, or put more bluntly what happens with the Society should I suddenly drop dead? and 2) what is the future for Will Writers regarding regulation?

The first is much easier to answer, in as much as last June I appointed a new director to sit on the board, and not forgetting the excellent team that makes up the SWW, all would be in good hands.

The second is not so easy, with all that this Government any that follow has to contend with over the next few years, Will Writing is not thought to be high on any bodies to-do list in Government?

The SWW is informed, and at the highest level, that the matter of statutory regulation even being raised, is several years away, and I can well believe that, however, this does not mean that we can afford to be complacent nor should we when it comes to how we regulate ourselves within our own industry.

Before you turn off thinking this is just another promotion for the SWW, if it comes across that way then I don’t mean it to be.

I have been with the SWW from the beginning, not for the money, as there was none, not for the glory or glamour, that has certainly been in short supply, but the way the concept was sold to me, sparked something and my passion for the SWW and the profession began and has never faltered.

When the SWW was first registered in April 1994, the Will Writing profession was just a few years old, and with no training, very little guidance and was subsequently was beginning to get itself a bad reputation, and if left unchecked would have ceased before it could get properly started.

That was then, so what of today and the day after, where should we be going as professional Will Writers?

Firstly, Will Writing is recognised as a profession, nearly 30 years on, at the outset we were marketed by the media and other professions as “a disaster waiting to happen”; well it has not happened and it won’t, The survey in 2010 carried out by the Legal Services Board into the provision of Will in England and Wales showed that as far as quality, there was no real difference between a Will produced by a solicitor and a Will Writer; I was somewhat disappointed in the result as, obviously, I would have like to have seen Will Writers coming out on top, after all, this is the only area of law we specialise in, we do not have to know or practice, litigation, divorce, criminal law or any of the other many areas which most solicitors have to know.

You may remember in 2013, Chris Grayling, following the 2010 survey and several years of talks and meetings between all the interested parties, he came out and stated that he saw no case for statutory regulation of Will Writing, but he would like to see better self-regulation, better public education and the standards raised overall.

The SWW rose to this challenge and began a program of public education using social media, the SWW also opened on January 1, 2014 the first totally dedicated centre for training Will Writers, a centre owned and controlled by the SWW, so that we could run courses whenever we wanted at such numbers, no longer being constrained by hotel rules and cancellation penalties. Over the first three years we had on average 600 attendees at courses each year. The induction course program is 10 each year, as with last year we will exceed this figure comfortably as we have already put on additional dates and most courses are already oversubscribed.

Sorry I get a bit carried away, I said this would not be a marketing exercise, but education is something about which I am equally passionate.

So, what of the future? I personally, and it may or may not reflect the ideas of most members, but I have never been keen on statutory regulation on such a young profession. The profession and those that work within it must find their own feet first, the Law Society called for regulation on the basis that they wanted a ‘level playing field’? What Will Writers need is a level playing field amongst its own kind. I believe that it should be for organisations such as the SWW in the first instance, given the authority by Government, possibly through the 2007 Act or the MoJ to police the profession.

My belief is that all Will Writers should be licensed, this would be in the form of ‘soft touch’ regulation, which can work, especially in a young small profession. I am talking now about those individuals and firms that only provide will writing as their core business and associated products and services, LPA’s and the like.

I worked with the Scottish Executive to introduce such a scheme in Scotland, which eventually was passed in law and received Royal Assent but has never been implemented.

How would I see ‘soft touch’ regulation working? Currently only Will Writers who are members of a recognised body such as the SWW or IPW require their members to have Professional Indemnity Insurance and to maintain an annual minimum standard of education through on-going CPD and provide some form of redress in the event of a complaint made against a member.

Licensing would ensure at the very least, that all Will Writers maintain their PII and CPD, and there would be in place a robust complaints and disciplinary procedure, even if there was not any indemnity fund at the beginning, the Will Writer could, if proven, have his or her license suspended until the work is completed or the recommendations by the complaints board complied with. Suspension should not in these instances be the first resort, but the very last, it may be that additional training is recommended, or an internal audit carried out.

The scheme that is available for use in Scotland was designed to be totally self-funding, and as the scheme was introduced with the full consultation of the main professional bodies, the cost of such a scheme were always a factor.

I would like to take this further and perhaps open up dialogue with the LSB or the MoJ, but I would like to know whether there is any interest or support for such a scheme, so I’m asking you to comment, either directly on this page, or to me at [email protected].

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