“Simple Wills” not so simple

A rise in contentious probate is anticipated as a result of research which shows that many Wills provided by online providers may not provide enough protection for the testator or testatrix. 

The research was conducted by independent research and consultancy firm Funeral Solution Expert who identified that 65% of UK consumers who believe their affairs are simple, actually have much more complex needs when it comes to their Will.

The research highlights that pre-qualification for many online providers failed to fully consider all the factors which might make an individual’s needs “complex” including marital status, children from previous relationships, assets held, business ownership and self-employment, overseas property and even disinheritance, where more than 1 in 10 people surveyed would actively like to disinherit a potential beneficiary.

Commenting on the suitability of online Wills, author of the report, Simon Cox, co founder of Funeral Solution Expert, said

“Consumers can’t be expected to know what questions have or have not been asked that might mean their online Will is not fit for purpose.”

It is estimated that that online wills account for around 5% of Wills written, around 60,000 Wills per year, although it could as high as 150,000 over the last 18 months as a result of the pandemic.

Concerningly a sizeable proportion (23%) of consumers do not bother to read or even understand the terms of the will they are entering into and signing. For Jon Brewer, CEO of Bequeathed, the report raises concerns around the provision of sufficiently clear suitability warnings and liability if something goes wrong

‘The terms and conditions on which a will-writing service is provided often don’t fully live up to the marketing claims made to entice the consumer to use it. All those limitations and exclusions in the small print may not matter to the consumer making the will now. They will matter to their family and friends who find the will doesn’t do what it should but have no-one to claim against.”

Writing in the report Chairman of Solicitors for the Elderly Michael Culver, adds

“It’s shocking that whilst solicitors are required to have professional indemnity insurance covering claims potentially as high as £2m or £3m (and many firms go for optional additional cover that can take this as high as £10m per claim), other professionals offering wills limit their liability to the cost of the will. £200 compensation doesn’t seem sufficient to cover a mistake that could end up costing someone their entire estate or inheritance.”

The report draws on an in-depth analysis of in-depth interviews with Will writing providers, mystery shops of 26 online will writing providers, a review of online Wills provider pre-qualification questions sets, Terms & Conditions, and  a consumer survey of 3000 UK adults.

Summarising the report, Simon Cox said

‘There is no doubt that an online will can be a good solution if affairs are genuinely simple and can save money versus a more traditional solicitor route. But our research shows that 65% of consumers who rate their own affairs as ‘simple’ subsequently reveal through questioning that their affairs are in fact ‘complex’. This combined with online will writers lack of robust questioning and limited liability is building a future pool of unsuitable and contested wills.”

“We believe every adult in the UK should have a will, the rise of more accessible online will writing solutions can be a good thing. But providers need to seriously consider if their current experience and warnings for customers are sufficiently clear, if the questions they are asking are doing enough to help consumers establish if the will is suitable, and if they need to do more to offer consumers liability protection from something going wrong.”

 

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