A Step in the right direction

To date, there hasn’t yet been a government regulator for will writers. Technically anybody can write a will without any qualifications, provided it’s written accurately and within the guidelines of the law — and it will then be validated at probate. However, there are suggested rules that will writers should follow.

The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) is a worldwide professional association with over 20,000 members across 95 countries, which was founded in 1991 by George Tasker as a hub for local forums of practitioners. The Society issued guidelines on 1st April 2014 to all STEP members who prepare wills in England & Wales. STEP members make the existence of this Code, and their adherence to it, part of their general information for prospective clients both in print and online.

STEP members are subject to an extensive Code of Professional Conduct, requiring them at all times to act with integrity and in a manner that inspires the confidence, respect and trust of their clients and of the wider community. Their members are also required to keep up to date with the latest legal, technical and regulatory developments. A full member of STEP can be recognised by the letters ‘TEP’ after their name.

Of course, STEP is not the only professional body for will writers and solicitors involved in this sector. The Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW) also issue guidelines. Are you a member of either of these organisations?

The IPW was founded in 1991 as a self-regulatory body to safeguard the public from unqualified practitioners and unethical business practices. It has since become established as a recognised professional body, regulating and promoting the profession of will writing in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In May 2014 following research carried out in 2011, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) issued guidance for solicitors preparing wills. The research was in response to evidence that nearly 25% of wills drafted by solicitors failed to achieve the desired quality.

A “shadow shopper” exercise carried out in partnership with the Legal Services Board (LSB), Legal Services Consumer Panel and the Office of Fair Trading found that of the 41 wills drafted by solicitors during the survey, nine did not meet the needs and circumstances of the client. Are you surprised by these figures?

The reasons for this failure included:

  • Inadequacy — The content of the will did not account for an estate fully, fails to make adequate provision or neglects to take certain outcomes in to consideration. It also includes wills which are legally invalid.
  • Requirements — Where the client’s requests had not been met (as specified in the testator questionnaire) through omission or conflicting specification.
  • Legality — Where the actions specified in the will were potentially illegal.
  • Inconsistency — Where the language, logic and/or content of the will was contradictory.
  • Detail — Where items, people and requests were described in insufficient detail.
  • Presentation — Where the language and format of the document was lacking as well as dealing with eliminating the reasons for failure, the guidance talks about training, storage and gifts given by clients.

“Shadow Shopping” involved researchers shadowing genuine clients and their will writing requests, rather than using professional shoppers. The exercise was carried out in 2011, but the SRA delayed producing guidance as the LSB proposed making will writing a reserved legal activity, which could have led to alterations to the Handbook.

Does your firm follow a specific set of guidelines?

Members of The Society of Will Writers (SWW) and the IPW are bound by their ethics and standards. All SWW and IPW members are fully indemnified and trained and supported in the laws of succession and estate planning in many cases to a far higher degree than many solicitors.

Would you agree that anyone wishing to prepare a will on behalf of another person should be subject to membership of an appropriate regulatory body?

Please let us know your views on this subject by leaving a comment below.

Today's Wills and Probate