How can you instil confidence within an unregulated profession?
The Government’s decision not to regulate will writing in England and Wales has left the industry wide open to abuse. Anyone can set up as a will writer, even if they have no qualifications or experience.
The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), the worldwide professional association for practitioners dealing with family inheritance and succession planning, sent a survey out to its members and was shocked by the results.
Some three-quarters of members responding reported cases of incompetence or dishonesty. These included wills where the beneficiaries’ names had been cut and pasted from other documents and were unknown to the testator, or will writers awarding themselves a legacy, or a substantial fee. Some had gone out of business, or had lost or destroyed wills. The families affected only found out the errors when it was far too late.
So how do you make it clear to prospective clients that your own practice knows what it’s doing?
STEP has formulated a Will Code, setting out ethical standards which all of its members writing wills must adhere to.
Published in April 2014, the Code requires the will drafter to identify themselves and their firms, and give a clear estimate of costs. There must be no conflict of interest, and firms’ terms and conditions must not attempt to exclude liability for loss arising from the work. Strictly ethical business practices must be followed, and the will must be appropriate for the client’s circumstances. The will must be accurately described to the client, especially where tax saving or asset protection features are claimed. The client’s own identity must be established according to Money Laundering Regulations. The client must be provided with a draft or copy will, proper records must be kept, and the will must be suitably stored.
Most importantly, the client must have the necessary mental capacity to instruct the will writer, and if in doubt, a medical practitioner’s advice must be sought. All information supplied must remain confidential. The will writer must have professional indemnity insurance and have a sound knowledge of the main areas of the law relating to wills. The drafter must establish whether advice is needed on inheritance tax, and provide it if so.
STEP members involved in will writing can use a special Will Code logo on their branding and corporate materials. If clients see this logo, they will know your practice is compliant with the Code and that they are dealing with a reputable and qualified practitioner.
If you prepare wills, but are not a member of STEP, successful completion of STEP’s Advanced Certificate in Will Preparation — England and Wales, will also enable you to use the logo.
Both the full Will Code and a guide for the public can be downloaded from the STEP website. There’s also a helpful video which can be shown to your clients to help them understand the issues.