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Join in the debate on Wills - the Final Rip Off?

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Eamonn Walsh | 11:10 UK time, Monday, 9 August 2010

Have you made a will yet? If not, take care.

Panorama has been investigating companies who make a good living from writing your Last Will and Testament, exposing the shocking financial pitfalls that face unwary consumers.

Consumers using private will-writing companies are being warned of the risks of being over charged, misled and in some cases defrauded by an industry that is currently unregulated in law.

Wills - the Final Rip Off? asks whether is it now time for this industry to be properly legally regulated.

We welcome your comments on the issue generally - and on the programme. Please feel free to use this blog as a forum for your concerns or comments.

If you need further guidance on wills, Consumer Direct is a government funded service offering information and advice on consumer issues. Their web-site provides specific information about will writing and executor services and advice on the procedure should you have a concern about how your executor service was explained or sold to you.

If you have evidence on the question of general standards of will-writing contact the Legal Services Board - the independent body responsible for overseeing the regulation of lawyers in England and Wales.


Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    We welcome your input via our team blog. Please join the debate and tell us your thoughts on Wills - the Final Rip Off?

  • Comment number 2.

    My neighbor had set up a willw riting business and came over to help me with my will after I had lost both my mother and partner within 24 hours. I was very vulnarable, alone, I have Aspergers and my then 3 year old son was diagnosed autistic. I wanted the will to ensure the house would be maintained for him and his needs taken care of in the event of anything ahppening to me.

    that was in 2005. In 2007 someone asked about my will and I showed it to them. It turned out that it actually read that the will writer was to have complte control of all my assets and home then valued at £250,000 to £300,000, that it would be held in her name and she had free will to do what she wanted including sell it!
    I was very lucky! Thankfully I was taken to a reputable solicitor to get things changed immediately!
    It could have beena LOT worse!

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    I expect that, as usual, vine will only report on the situation in englandshire and completely ignore the other parts of the uk where the legal system is different - scotland and n ireland??

  • Comment number 5.

    Being Canadian, different rules & regulations may apply. I paid a lawyer $500.00 to write my will; so, I'm pretty sure that I'm in good shape to die; also, the lawyer had done other legal work for me and was duly registered with the Canadian Law Society.
    That being said, I've often wondered about all the companies listed in the telephone book or on the Internet that provide "official" forms, "professional" assistance, and have names extremely suggestive of legal authority. e.g. The name might be LegalWills Inc. (I made this up, but you can see how misleading the name could be.)

  • Comment number 6.

    Can I just point out that with some estates it takes a long time for banks/building societies/shares etc to respond to the Solicitors involved. It takes a while for the Solicitor to collect most/all of the money from the estate especially if it is a large estate. It is wrong to hold money back from clients and if anyone does this then they are breaking Law Society and Solicitors Regulation Authority Rules but if they have not got the money - they are not doing anything wrong. Your comment regarding no money being sent to a beneficiary for 6 months makes out that all Probates are finished within that time - this is incorrect and I ask you to stress this point. Your story is on "make your own will" packages and other fraudulant businesses. The important point to stress is that it is VITAL clients who would like to make a will goes to trusted/local/well known solicitors.

  • Comment number 7.

    The matter of concern for myself and my Wife is that our three step children, who are not adopted by myself benefit in terms of guardianship should anything happen to my Wife as we want to maintain stability in the children's lives and that returning to their natural Father would not be a good idea. The will provided by WDS Associates does not specify this despite it being specified at point of consultation, can someone with a legal understanding advise whether this will would protect our children or if it ought to be disregarded and a new will sought. The other option is adoption, but this would be a costly and time consuming process as the natural father would probably try to placate barriers to stop the process. However as you can probably gather, financial aspects are not concerning but our children's welfare is paramount.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm a bit surprised that Panorama did not comment on the obvious, do not make anybody an executor unless they are 100%, especially do not make solicitors or banks executors as they will milk the estate for between 5 and 10%. Better to make your beneficiaries the executors and make sure there are always several in case one dies. Having just handled two wills in my family, I can assure you it is not too difficult, it takes time but that's all. The legal 'profession' just milk those who are nervous and the banks, well you know what they're after for their incompetence.

  • Comment number 10.

    Is Panorama now the official mouth piece of the Solicitors Regulatory Authority? Not all Willwriters are corrupt or incompetent. Members of the Institute of Professional Willwriters operate under a code of conduct that is approved by the Office of Fair Trade and welcome and encourage regulation. To restrict the supply of competent service providers to the Willwriting industry will result in solicitors charging ever higher prices and will not benefit the public.

  • Comment number 11.

    Does make me laugh solicitor’s daughters saying go to trusted/local/well known solicitors.

    Was it not the people in this programme who went to prison solicitors?

    I also think John Summers comments are a load off rubbish and found Affinity wills very professional and a pleasure to deal with and yes I’m happy and would recommend Affinity wills to my friends and family, which I have done and all have been very happy with the service.

    Thanks Affinity...

  • Comment number 12.

    I am married to a Will Writer, we both watched the programme in disgust. The vast majority of Will Writers are upstanding, accredited individuals. Quite recently, I watched Panorama disparage my own industry, that of private day nurseries. Again, I was disgusted. Panorama purports to be a public information service yet anyone with any intelligence will realise that it is akin to the gutter press, sensationalising and rubbishing whole industries on the basis of just one bad apple. We have heard of paedophile vicars and bent coppers, but we cannot say that all vicars and police are bad. Will panorama similarly badmouth the church and police force? In an age when the government is relying on private enterprise to kick-start the economy, this sort of unfair, bad press is not at all welcome.

  • Comment number 13.

    The reason that these services exist is because solicitors and banks generally charge a fortune for administering an estate.

    For instance, a well known high street bank will offer a "free" will drafting service for their clients. What most people fail to realise is that the aforementioned bank will then proceed to only make the will on the provision that they are the name executors in it. This then ties the family into using their services at an absolutely outrageous sum (4.5% of the estate value!).

    My family recently had to deal with this event and after watching this program I found myself thinking - if only I was charged just 1% for dealing with the estate work!

  • Comment number 14.

    Here we go again!
    Panorama, the gutter-press of the airwaves!!
    Pure unadulterated cheap sensationalism!!!
    Why doesn't the editor apply a bit of balance to this programme.
    I'm sure we could all highlight the occasional rogue in every profession - journalists, banks and solicitors included.

    No acclaim for the legion of first-class Independent Will-Writers who help their thousands of satisfied customers to clearly understand the ramifications of becoming one of the 70% of adults that die intestate, and who leave in their wake untold family arguments, financial difficulties and hardships.

    As a practicing Independent Will-Writer, to my knowledge those Will-Writers belonging to professional body, must carry Professional Indemnity Insurance in the region of £2,500,000 in order to protect their customers in the event of negligence, incompetence and the like.

    The Panorama programme criticised the practise of Will-Writers offering different levels of service to customers. Surely it is better to offer a range of products to suit a customer's individual needs and requirements than just one blanket cost. Incidentally, a BBC recent survey highlighted probate costs charged by high street banks as being over 400% higher than solicitors typical charges, and that Will-Writers where the least expensive of all.

    I am certain the professional Independent Will-Writer plays an extremely important role in enlighting those who haven't yet got round to making their Will of the perils of not doing so. Our service is geared to the convenience of the customer, and home visits are an integral feature. The procedure is always carefully explained in a way which the customer can understand, and no pressure of any kind is ever applied.

    As for regulation, I have to abide by the strict Code of Conduct set out by my professional body, as well as maintaining continuing professional development to high professional standards.

    So come on BBC - try and give a balanced perspective to this very important issue. By not doing so, you may be doing the public a serious disservice.


  • Comment number 15.

    Solicitorsdaughter, as much as i agree with your point regarding the time Probate can take, i must state it is NOT vital at all that people should only go to Solicitors to write Wills, in fact its complete nonsense to state that, there are many very good, professional Will writing companies offering a fair deal on a number of areas, and may i say it, Solicitors out there who write poor Wills. 66% of the Population do not have any Wills, which i believe would have made a more worthwhile angle for this programme because dying intestate can be equally horrendous as some of the stories on the show, they were thieves and just happened to use the Will writing industry to do it!

    Antony,it is impossible to offer any advice without reading your paperwork but i would suggest if you have serious doubts about your current arrangements in your Will,you go and see a Solicitor specialising in Family Law, and get their expert opinion on your specific case.

    Finally,do not allow any Will writer or Solicitor to put themselves down as Executors, it is not necessary. If your not sure about the service you have received then do not sign anything until your 100% certain you understand it all.

  • Comment number 16.

    It's not just the private companies ripping people off in this matter - you should investigate the banks too - they lie and cheat to get money from the elderly and then their relations after they've gone.

  • Comment number 17.

    i was contacted, on a cold call, to see if i could protect my home fron the government, if i was taken into care. i,m 52 so i said no. a few days later a friend was contacted, by the same company, and she said that she may be interested. they then asked her if she had a will and when she said yes they told her that they would check it to make sure that it was legal and that their representative would call around to see her.i was concerned as she is vulnerable and disabled and ON HER OWN!!!
    when the rep. called to see her he was surprised that she had people with her but did not let it phase him. he did not carry out any identification until he saw me or disclose the solicitors that he was marketing. he did go through the duty of disclosure about advice and recommendation and he then found out the amount of her estate and went on to advise a family properity trust, even though her knew that she has no children, (he asked her three times). he told her that a will was, basically, not worth the paper that it was written on, and that if you went to a gp for an ailment (your solicitors) he would refer you to a specialist (his solicitors). this is yet another scam that needs investigating because older people need, and trust, solicitors and need protection. if i hadn.t been there.. who knos. i have names.

  • Comment number 18.

    I would like to know why when ever Panorama have an investigation they only look to scare people with hard hitting headlines using chosen footage.
    The majority of will writing Companys have there clients interests at heart and just like Solicitors and as we all know "banks" there are going to bad apples!
    By all means regulate the Industry but that doesn't mean wiping out everyone who is not a Solicitor or a blood sucking bank!

  • Comment number 19.

    If you are going to produce a programme on Will Writing, and the handling of Probate upon death, do you think it appropriate to focus on one, admittedly unregulated, aspect of the industry?
    There are 4 options open for will writing. Self Written (pick up a form at the Post Office), Solicitors, Banks and Will Writing organisations. Your programme took to focus, essentially, on the rogue traders in the Will Writing Organisations. As in any industry, particularly an unregulated industry, although each person going out as a representative does have to attain FSA accreditation before they can go out and sell will writing and related services, there are always going to be rogue traders. BUT, there are also many excellent organisations that have good and reputable representatives selling their services. (I know, as my partner did this for some time.) So why didn't you interview and show that there are GOOD people in this business, too?
    Having now gone through two appalling experiences of being an executor in which a solicitor had written themselves into the role of being one of the executors (and made a serious legal error in the first will), you chose not to point out the absurd fees and charges that a solicitor will make against the estate. Oh yes, you point out that a solicitor will charge £80 to £100 for will writing - but what you didn't include was the fact they write themselves into the will, and then they cream off between 5% to 10% of the estate in their role as an executor. Then of course, do not even think about a bank in the role of executor, as the minimum they will charge is 10%. (I asked a bank to quote on their role in my recent handling of my mother's estate. Nothing less than 10% of the estate!) I also know of a person, and this is 100% fact, as my late mother knew this person throughout their life, and both of whom have now passed away, that this third party worked in the administration section of a provincial solicitors' practice and for many, many years, being highly selective in the process, wrote their own name into the will of older people, as a beneficiary, for modest sums of money. Over many years this amounted to tens of thousands of pounds. Of course the solicitors practice completely hushed up the whole affair when it eventually, as it was bound too, came to light. The employee was dismissed and nothing brought out into the open. The case never went to court, or even to the Law Society. This person was known by my mother throughout her life, so I can assure you there are crooks and cowboys in what are constituted as legal and regulated practices too. Of course your programme on a point of fairness, failed to point this out.
    At no point in the programme did you suggest as to what the sort of charges would be incurred during probate by each of the available options. Just focussing on the 'bad apples' in one part of an industry implies that every other choice open to you is a better option. Speaking from experience, be careful, be very careful. Solicitors have a real ability to suck you into their system and then bleed money out of your estate. Banks likewise. Did you approach solicitors and ask what they would charge as an example of carrying out probate, did you approach banks? No. In fact all you tried to make out is that will writers were out to rip you off. Well, wherever there is money involved there will be people exercising greed, companies, banks, legal practices. They are all out to get there hands on what they consider to be ‘easy money’. It's just that the banking and legal practices are businesses that are, 'regulated',...... whatever that may mean.
    The programme certainly showed us some of the despicable rogues that have been working in the will writing industry - for will writing companies. But, where were the rogues and cowboys working in solicitors practices and for banks? Just because their businesses are regulated, it doesn't make their overcharging practices acceptable. It just makes it legalised robbery.
    On the whole, I thought this was an extremely poor piece of journalism, that took one narrow point of view on a whole industry that needs complete and thorough investigation.You took no regard for the the good companies that are out there writing good wills and with very transparent fees and charges. Why not? We know why not, as they would dilute the ‘scandalous’ point that the programme was trying to put across.

    Upon death of a loved one, when people go through great stress, they are at their most vulnerable, they are least likely to complain, or get a third party to quote on the execution of a last will and testament and probate. They should. Good will writing companies have very clear terms and conditions, with very transparent charges and fees. I can guarantee you that a good will writing company will handle the affairs of an estate far better and far more economically that ANY legal practice, or any bank.
    When I update my will, as I shall shortly need to do, having recently acquired some of my mother's estate, I will NOT be using a solicitor to draw up my will (and allow themselves to write themselves in as an executor), neither will I be using a bank, for the same reasons. I WILL BE USING A REPUTABLE WILL WRITING COMPANY, OF WHICH THERE ARE MANY OUT THERE. I must point out that I have no links to any organisation related to will writing, or handling of probate, etc, etc. I just write from personal experience.

  • Comment number 20.

    Dear Panorama

    We have just watched the program relating to Will Writers
    we are a will writing company based in the north east and would like to praise you on the content showing the bad points of our profession.
    We know that the program looks at the bad side of most issues aired but there are good companies and we are proud to say we feel we are one who
    has insurance, cpd hours, happy customers, no over inflated fees - with hidden agendas, members of the society of will writers as individuals
    wanting regulation - and its not just will writers - some solicitors have and will continue to be disreputable
    ( a crime is a crime committed by whoever)

    many thanks for the program and it has possibly moved regulation on and hopefully it will be with us sooner than later

    Paul

  • Comment number 21.

    The programme implied solicitors are the best option for will writing, but failed to mention what they were like at executed wills.
    Solicitors are not white than white when it comes to being the executors of wills, my father experienced the solicitor hanging onto the money for over two years and I know of others who have had this experience. While he did receive some interest (not favourable) investigation by the solicitors ombudsman is ineffective, with solicitors investing solicitors no independence.

  • Comment number 22.

    Having seen the programme last night, I was not surprised to see the bias against Professional Will Writers and in favour of Solicitors and I must say I agree that within the industry there are many get rich quick merchants. However, it is so wrong not to balance the story. As a Will writer myself and also a Financial Advisor regulated by the F.S.A. , I apply the stringent Financial Advisor process to my Will writing activities and do the best for my clients.
    In my role as a Financial Advisor, making a Will is a very important part of the process and needs carefull advice and guidance. With my exeperience as an IFA, I am able to explain to my clients the need to take out additional plans to complement their finacial planning. The reason I write my own Wills is that in my experience I have come across some pretty awful Solicitors who lack even some of the basic knowledge when it comes to writing Wills, but because the property market has taken a dramatic fall in recent years, they have now turned to writing Wills.
    It must be said that anyone can effectively start a business as a Will writer and charge what they like. I have come across all sorts of so-called Will writers who have come form various backgrounds, dont really have suitable qualifications, and personally I would welcome some form of regulation. It would be a real mistake to preserve this activity for Solicitors alone and no doubt drive the cost up further mresulting in even more people putting off making a Will leading to even more probelms for families who have to deal with the issues of intestacy.
    One final thought for anyone wanting to make a Will and are attracted by a special offer or cheap Will. Ask yourselves, if someone wants to come to your house at a time to suit you, travelling some distance from their home or place of work, to sit with you for an hour or more, then go away to prepare a water tight legal document to meet with your dying wishes, giving you complete peace of mind, all for £30.00 -£60.00, stop and think how on earth can this Company make any money to provide the service unless they plan to sell you additional products and services?

    Honestadisor

  • Comment number 23.

    As much as i, and obviously many others working in the Will writing industry found last nights Panorama nothing more than mis-informed and biased scare mongering, i think the BBC should look at the very real problem of people dying Intestate (without a Will).
    Thousands of people have suffered nightmare scenarios trying to sort out an intestate case, resulting in most cases, in very high undue costs and time that would have been straight forward cases with even the most basic of Wills.As anyone in the Industry knows though, simple Wills are not often the best solution, and the insinuation that discussing other options and Products with a client is in some way wrong, is in my opinion the worst part of last nights programme, and will (excuse the pun) infact cause even more confusion to people wanting and NEEDING a Will.
    The BBC have many programmes they could run this feature on including the One Show, which should now be watchable with an amusing presenter, and offer to the public a balanced view of what is required with a Will and much, much more importanlty what can happen to your Children, Money, Property, Businesses and personal possesions should you die Intestate, i would suggest it would be not only a more useful look at what is a huge problem, but also a very scary experience for those without Wills.
    I guess it is easy saying this whilst working in the Will writing industry, but those of us that do fully understand what a nightmare it can be dying intestate.
    Come on the BBC, instead of scare mongering and picking out the bad apple of which every single industry has them, actually produce a factual feature offering a balanced view,that will help those needing to look at a Will.

  • Comment number 24.

    So much for the balanced view from the BBC, was this program sponsored by the Law Society and the Banks.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    Its a shame that the programme didn't mention the work that the OFT are doing to clean up the Willwriting sector.

    More details on the OFT website here:

    http://www.oft.gov.uk/consumer-advice/approved-codes-explained/

  • Comment number 27.

    For the sake of fair play and honest journalism please find and publish the answers to these two questions;
    In the last three year period how many solicitors have been struck of for financial impropriety or fraud?
    How many customer service complaints have the Law Society recieved in the last three years (bearing in mind inhouse complaints procedures must have been exhausted first)?
    Would not the answers to these questions have put your programme into some contaxt?

  • Comment number 28.

    I'm pleased to see that most other viewers feel the same way I do. Panorama is no more than gutter press and the reporting is the absolutely distasteful biased-type of journalism used by some of the more vulgar red-top newspapers. The BBC website says that Panorama exposes the use and abuse of power - really?? They should do a programme on themselves then!
    Last night's programme had not one iota of balance and was so mis-leading to the public that Jeremy Vine and Vivian White should hang their heads in shame - BOO! BOO!

  • Comment number 29.

    How right you are. But don't think that solicitors are any better. They, too are after your money

    Although I did not know it at the time, years ago my then 73 year old relation used a solicitor to draw up a will in which I was to be named as executor. In fact she named me and the solicitor as joint executors. This at a time when she was under considerable stress and open to persuasion. Knowing her as I did I can be certain that naming the solicitor was not her idea.

    Only after she died did the situation become apparent but as a result I have been denied access to the will (in which I am the only executor identified by name) I have been unable to execute the will and the estate is being charged thousands of pounds in fees for a task I would have done for about £100.

    Because my aunt signed the will the legal watchdogs can do nothing.

    Their advice is to engage another solitor if I wish to contest it. In other words to pay solicitor B to avoid being ripped off by solicitor A

    The message should be, never ever name a professional as your executor or joint executor. The majority of wills are simple to execute and if he or she needs to your executor can always employ professional help and that way will remain in control

  • Comment number 30.

    I have edited this post to meet with "House Rules" approval.

    I applaud Panorama for highlighting this issue but am bemused that such a biased view resulted in an entire industry being punished for the actions of just a few.

    74% of the adult population do not have a Will and every year many people die intestate. The best way to avoid acrimony which can divide families - and hefty legal bills that eat into estates - is to leave a well-drafted Will that benefits from sensible estate planning.

    Thousands of people in care homes with long-term illnesses have had their homes and most of their savings used up to pay for their care, by prudent estate planning before such an event could occur they can protect assets against seizure and hefty IHT bills.

    Voluntary regulation, such as codes of conduct and consumer education schemes could be implemented but by who?

    The Law Society deal only with paying members who are in all cases Solicitors and as such would look to protect their own members interests resulting in less competition and higher prices for the consumer.

    In the same way that you cannot drive a car before completing a test to prove your competency or fit a gas appliance without first having Corgi registration, a national scheme ran by say, the national examination board or STEP (society of trust and estate practitioners) would be a positive move forward but then who would police it?

    The banks are meant to be regulated by the FSA but they failed to stop the likes of RBS losing billions and being bailed out by the taxpayers. All the while they keep getting big bonuses.

    What advert Is that for Regulation?

    There are good and bad in all walks of life. The recent expenses scandal involving MP’s highlight the fact that even within the ranks of the people we elect to represent us rotten apples exist.

    Solicitors have been charging extortionate amounts for literally hundreds of years to consumers to make their Will and/or handle their affairs after death.

    The programme should have been more reflective on the entire industry and not a witch hunt against Independent Will Writers.

  • Comment number 31.

    There are some very good comments which highlight the narrow area the programme focussed on and the lack of balance. One such area was the look at alternatives for Will writing and how technology and the internet are changing the picture.
    In the United States there is a very successful online document company which has created over 1 million Wills, and has a good reputation. I am a solicitor and have founded an online company in the UK with the specific aim of using technology to build a Will of the same high quality I uased to produce when running a City Will and Trust team. While technology plays a significant part, all Will and other legal documents are personally checked by a solicitor and member of STEP (Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners). Such companies will be increasing helpful in adding to the penetration of quality Will documentation to the masses who are fearful of law firm charges & less trsutworthy alternatives.

  • Comment number 32.

    As a Solicitor Peter, I hope that the Wills you intend to produce are "uased" in accordance with current legislation in England and Wales and not that of the United States. In addition, the employment of a "trsutworthy" proof reader may be a prudent step to avoid very basic and glaring spelling mistakes within those very important legal documents.

  • Comment number 33.

    'England and Wales'? - He's talking about the UK - the other 2 parts have different legal systems which you choose to ignore and I hope the Wills will also be 'uased' in accord with the current legislation under Scots Law and the law of n ireland!

  • Comment number 34.

    Before I begin I would like to point out there are "cowboys" in every trade, some builders charge extortionate rates then leave a semi-completed job for months and sometimes years. Personally I encourage the inevitable regulations that will follow this documentary and believe it can only protect the public.

    On that note, the sole focus of this show was not about Will writers on the whole. It has been twisted to appear that the Independent Will Writer is to blame for these victims either losing there inheritance or being severely delayed in receiving it. The reason all the people in the show suffered the way they did was down to who was nominated as their executors. Most respectable Will Writing firms will advise it is best to nominate a family member or close friend you trust implicitly to handle the administration of the estate after the person has passed on. It is then their choice, if they feel they cannot handle the task to seek professional help where a charge may be incurred.

    This is not the case for nearly all solicitors who recommend themselves to be the executors and will charge usually between 3% and 5% of the total estate. Banks are just as bad offering their clients a "free Will" when hidden away in the small print they are to be the sole executors and receive a percentage of the estate as their fee.

    I would also like to bring to the publics attention that I recently phoned a reputable Solicitors in Leeds and when speaking to one of the partners was informed that no trust work was required in order to set up a Protective Property TRUST. Thus rendering the whole service pointless but would have left me out of pocket. It is not to be assumed that simply because you are using a solicitors you are receiving accurate advice.

    I would recommend using a reputable Independent Will Writer even after the regulations come into play however always check the following;

    They have the relevant Professional Indemnity Insurance so that if any mistakes are made in the Will you will be able to get your money back.

    The firm has a good reputation, check with friends, relatives and colleagues who they used and their thoughts on the firm.

    This will undoubtedly have a knock on effect causing larger Independent Will Writers to lay off staff and some of the smaller firms having to cease trading. A negative effect when you consider Independent Will Writers have reduced the amount of people without Wills by 10% in a matter of years. Thank you BBC!

  • Comment number 35.

    The programme's report on the sales practices of WDS Associates is just the tiniest tip of a very large iceberg, of which more may well be revealed in the fullness of time.
    That having said, viewers/readers should not assume such activities to be representative of the standards of honesty, integrity and professionalism observed by the great majority of will writing practices.

  • Comment number 36.

    Peter (comment 31)
    Just out of interest, how do you know that the person giving the information on-line is who they say they are, and more importantly - how are you able to assess capacity?

  • Comment number 37.

    Maybe, I am biased but, as a Solicitor, the best way of handling any persons affairs is by using a person who has a general understanding of various aspects of the law and the implication that Wills can have in many different facets of life.

    On this board alone subjects such as guardianship, asset protection, providing for disabled and vulnerable beneficiaries and, with an IFA involved, inevitably tax mitigation. The point about will writers is encompassed in the name itself, they are will writers, as a general statement, they are salespeople, even referring to themselves as such in the show, not advisors.

    A decent Solicitor, yes I concede that there are many useless ones, even within STEP who have launched a new certificate for their members to improve proficiency in will drafting, will be able to advise on the implication of drafting a will in certain manner and whether this is for the clients best interests. I think people, probably will writers or failed Solicitors, give Solicitors a bad rep by saying things like "The legal 'profession' just milk those who are nervous" we are underpinned by a series of rules and conduct being to uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice, act with integrity, must not allow your independence to be compromised, act in the best interests of each client, provide a good standard of service to your clients, and not to behave in a way that is likely to diminish the trust the public places in the legal profession. Again, a good Solicitor will follow these rules and ensure that for a very modest sum every will is bespoke and tailored to the needs of the client and not a "will by numbers".

    With regard to Solicitors charging for Probate, again, good solicitors are to follow the Law Society Guideline charges of 1% of cash assets and 0.5% of bricks and mortar with a small hourly rate charge on top if the matter justifies it. 5% of the estate is just plain ridiculous but if it were the case my costs target would be destroyed within months!

    My own view, and that of Which?, is use a solicitor to draft your will, yes intestacy is terrible but arguable a hell of a lot better than an ill drafted and conceived will prepared by someone without training and the intelligence and knowledge to consider the wider implications of "just another will".

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 39.

    donmamboni: this contributor has not looked up the OFT site (as recommended earlier) has not looked up the IPW site (www.ipw.org.uk) and has not read the IPW Code of Practice, nor have the BBC posted any reply to the questions of how many solicitors have been struck off for financial impropriety or how many complaints the Law Society receive. The Panorama programme was clearly one sided and unbalanced.

  • Comment number 40.

    donmamboni, I’m surprised by some of the comments in your posting. I agree that employing a Solicitor is a very good avenue to go down when making a Last Will & Testament BUT it is one of several options that consumers have available to them.

    Unfortunately, Panorama decided to besmirch an entire industry over the (inappropriate and unlawful) actions of a few and, as such, ended up running a 30 minute commercial for Solicitors who offer those services.

    As a licence payer, I expect a balanced view from the BBC, they fell short of the mark.

    Only a few weeks earlier they did a marvellous programme on how we should look to fund long-term care for the elderly and how many people lose their homes as a result of poor financial and estate planning.

    Speak to any reputable Will writer and they will all confirm that regulation would be a good (and long overdue) step that needs to be taken.

    However, a solicitor is only one of many sources available for persons wishing to make a Will and they should not expect a cartel as a result of regulation (despite Panoramas best attempts to create such a situation).

  • Comment number 41.

    I have waited a little before posting a comment but after a deal of thought I do consider this programme to be of a standard well below what we should be able to expect from a BBC flagship programme of the status of Panorama.
    The thrust of the programme was that viewers should avoid using will writers as they
    a) are dishonest
    b) they are incompetent
    c) they will over charge
    d) they are not insured
    They argument was supported by a number of examples and horror stories about crocked will writers.
    I must come clean and say that I am a will writer and a member of the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW) but from my standpoint I believe that the research and journalism of this programme was sloppy, lazy and sensationalist. The programme makers were obviously more concerned about making an interesting and enjoyable programme than in presenting a balanced view of the facts.
    There is a strong case to be made for regulation and I for one along with my professional body the IPW fully support this view - the sooner the better. The Governments failure to regulate the industry is a strong contributory factor in the continuation of a few disreputable will writers businesses.
    For the programme to extrapolate from that however, that all will writers are therefore incompetent crooks is untrue, defamatory and plainly ridiculous.
    As a member of the IPW I operate under a code of practice which, as others have pointed out, has recently gained the approval of the OFT under the "Approved Codes" scheme. The OFT have inspected every aspect of the way that I, and fellow members conduct our businesses. They have considered training, terms and conditions, complaints procedures, clear pricing, cancellation procedures, will preparation time, professional indemnity insurance etc etc indeed everything that a government regulation scheme would be expected to include is now in place for IPW members.
    There was a clear inference in the programme that will writers will charge excessive fees and that solicitors charges are always fair and reasonable. This is a quite ridiculous assertion. Solicitors and will writers charges do vary but most IPW members fees are lower than most solicitors and in general a good deal more transparent to the client.
    I do know that you are in the entertainment industry but come on BBC you can do much better than this.

  • Comment number 42.

    It was disappointing to see such a one sided argument on your programme. Regulation for solicitors has, as can be seen from the posts above, not provided an error free service, nor one which is universally highly regarded. Regulation alone does not provide all the answers.

    Members of the Public can choose from a variety of professionals and much will depend on the professionalism of the individual. Those legal professionals who operate outside the traditional solicitor's practice model and run their businesses properly, with insurance and legally qualified staff are not the issue.

    Again the BBC using a tiny minority to prove a point, and neatly glossing over the actual scope of the work done, when mentioning the cost. What did the client actually pay for, a will or a will plus tax planning and other advice including LPA? We are left wondering.

    A missed opportunity to provide a clear and balanced insight into the will writing industry and one which, in my view,was badly misleading. A shabby piece of journalism.

  • Comment number 43.

    This programme has put the liveliehood of honest hard-working people at risk whilst at the same time potentially negatively prejudicing the best interests of members of the general public. Well done BBC!

    What happened to the standards of reporting with integrity and balance which it was my belief the BBC was founded upon?

    I challenge you to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and reply to a previous request for information on complaints against solicitors.

  • Comment number 44.

    My late Father met with a Solicitor to prepare his Will. He was very specific as to whom the beneficiaries would be ie. his three children, and he provided our names to the Solicitor. Two years after my late Father died, I received a letter from a Solicitor two hundred miles away, stating they were representing a fifty year old man who claimed to be an illegitimate child of my late Father and that he was entitled to a quarter of the Estate. I was shocked, as my siblings and I were unaware of this man's existence whilst our parents were alive.
    We were advised by a Solicitor to obtain the file notes made by the drafter of the Will. We soon obtained a copy and they quite clearly show three names and the numeral 3. However, when the Solicitor created the will, he just used the words "all my children". When I asked him why, he said it was just standard terminology.
    Despite being presented with a copy of the file notes, which clearly show my late Father's true intentions, this man is still trying to make claim.
    After a meeting with the Will solicitor, rather than rectify their clerical error, both he and his colleague saw this as a business opportunity, advising us what it would take to defend ourselves, rectify the Will out of time and how much it would cost us.
    At this moment in time, this man has accelerated his claim to High Court level and not only demands a quarter of the Estate, but is demanding that we pay all of his legal fees too.
    This man is a complete stranger to us, we've never met him and because of a Solicitor's clerical error, we are being dragged through a legal nightmare. He certainly wasn't raised by my parents, because if he was, he wouldn't be doing what he's doing.
    The Will file notes are absolute proof of my late Father's intentions, yet this disgusting man, this complete stranger, is taking advantage of a clerical error in the Will.
    This started sixteen months ago and although it's a nightmare for my siblings and I, it's just bread & butter for the legal industry. It's not being looked at by the legal profession on a human level, where the truth and common sense apply, instead it's just a legal game of tennis, where very expensive paper is being passed back and forth and we're stuck in the middle of it all.

  • Comment number 45.

    Perhaps Panorama would care to follow up the case of Man_C and maybe the tens of thousands of other cases where solicitors have made a complete mess and then make a more balanced, truthful, and honest representation of the real situation out there in the real world.

  • Comment number 46.

    My father died in January this year. He used the services of a will writer and nominated their company to act as executor of his estate. He paid £1649 for a basic will (he has no property) and there is an additional charge of 1% for probate etc. We are still waiting for the estate to be sorted out. Even though we have solicitors acting on our behalf, these 'executors' are ignoring all letters from them.

    Anyone can become a will writer after. My cousin was declared bankrupt less than a decade ago and she is the the person who sold my father this package. Sadly, he trusted her. I'm no fan of solicitors, but they study for years and are governed by the Law Society. As for the Will Writers Sociey ... well if you watched Panorama need I say any more? The calibre of all those who worked for Will Writing companies and their society was plain to see. Please bring in regulations to stop these cowboys.

  • Comment number 47.

    I'm sure this could rumble on for many, many days with many scare stories concerning Solicitors and Will writers but it keeps coming down to Probate and the abuse of it rather than Will writing, and personally quertyuiop i'd suggest if you took more time assisting your father when he wrote his Will at an exorbatant cost from your 'Cousin' than you have writing that ridiculous post, then maybe, just maybe your family might not be in this mess now.
    The Representative from the Society of Will Writers was interviewed at length yet the BBC chose about 15 seconds of his interview to show it as a response from them, which is frankly an embarrasment to the BBC and very mis-representative of the Societys views.
    We as a company would welcome regulation and any additional exam the Government want to put forward because we too want the industry rid of the 'Cowboys' and oddly enough the Law Society are constantly doing their best to get rid of similar solicitors, they ban enough every year so they must be getting there.
    I know this programme has already affected business today, and we as a company NEVER handle any Probate for anyone, which is the issue, yet the insinuation left by this programme from a channel i help pay for, could quite easily see my out of work, and as i sit here today in the last 12 months i have had absolutely No complaints about my work or those of my company, can that be fair?
    If anyone out there believes all Solicitors do a good and fair job at writing Wills, then they are living in Cloud Cuckoo land,and on the other hand that all Professional Will writers are in-competent crooks as the BBC suggests, then i guess you'll believe the moon is made of cheese and santa clause will be visiting you at christmas.
    This programme was wrong and will cost genuine people their jobs and there must be solicitors all over the country celebrating wildly the free advert the BBC gave them on monday.

  • Comment number 48.

    My mother made a will with a solicitor leaving everything to her four children after my father died over twenty years ago. Unfortunately, over the years she deteriorated physically and then mentally. For many years i was her primary carer. When i believe she began to go into dementia my siblings appeared on the scene and took over her finances. Shortly afterwards they took her off to a willmaker where she changed her will leaving myself and any reference to my late sister out of this will. I have recently seen a copy of this will, my daughters received a small amount of money. Quite frankly it was a dogs dinner of a will, it had my siblings fingerprints all over it.
    Willmakers do not have the expertise to deal with elderly clients like solictors do. They should be regulated. All that was left to me was a letter of wishes that my mother could not possibly have written, her hands were crippled with arthritis and her attention span was extremely short. She could barely sign her name.
    Many people who have property today are not rich and mistakes cannot be put right. Only wealthy people can afford to contest wills. My mother, once a practising catholic has gone to her grave acknowledging only two of her children.

  • Comment number 49.

    Bridget26 (Comment 48)

    If you are sure your mother was suffering mentally and you believe that she would not be capable of making a Will, contest it.If you can demonstrate she did not have the capacity then you have a case.Her Doctor or other medical pracitioners who she recieved treatment from might help.I would gladly give you some assistance (no fee). Let me know.

    Whilst we all no doubt endeavour to compose our views here in the correct manner without spelling mistakes and gramatical errors,I dont think it that important as long as our views are expressed. I dont think its indicative of how we may deal with professional matters necessarily. Does anyone else think it matters that much that they delight in pointing our these minor errorsd to score cheap points. Majoring on the minor me thinks.

    Honestadvisor

  • Comment number 50.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 51.

    With reference to my previous blog and just so Les Dixon you understand, we have a problem with a bad will - ie the essential clause missed out, or we have a conspiracy with the will writer, executors and sister and the essential clause was deliberately missed out. My father being duped into believing that the letters accompanying the will were sufficient. Either way, a Will Writer got our family into this mess.

    Honest Advisor - your first blog was so refreshing and honest. Thank you.

  • Comment number 52.

    Our wills were written by an experienced solicitor! They recommended my husband should have Trusts. What they didn't say, he should first ask whoever he wanted before having it written in his will. They also changed the apportionment of the Will to incorporate the Conservatives increase in IHT saying it would be a benefit? how can a solicitor recommend something that hasn't happened. My husband died before the election and we the family would have been better off had the will not included altered to include the above. Solicitors however much training they have are still not fully qualified, the law is constantly changing and we the public are not protected. Yes make it simple and don't have the solicitors as Executors.

    Which reported on the same subject just recently.

  • Comment number 53.

    I think that solicitors, or legally regulated professionals should be the only ones who can charge for writing wills. Also I think that those publishing DIY Wills should also regulated with appropriate health warnings. When my wife's aunt died we enquired the charges that a solicitor would make for carrying out probate. They were enormous.

    Sometimes a solicitor will be necessary as you never know what you are going to find out when someone dies, but often it is time consuming, but not difficult. If a family member (or even two) is specified as the executor, they can decide on whether to use a solicitor with associated costs. If the solicitor is specified in the will, then the costs could be enormous. Each letter has a cost based on the time spent on it. Sometimes of course a solicitor can avoid costly errors too, but it should be about who is in control.

  • Comment number 54.

    Thankyou Honest Advsisor for your offer to help me, but i no longer wish any contact with my siblings, even indirect contact. As far as medical evidence is concerned she was not diagnosed with dementia until eighteen months after she changed her will. Prior to making her new will i wrote a letter to her docter asking him to assess her because she could no longer manage her money but this came to nothing.
    One reason i did not contest the will , there was not much left to contest. My siblings had already had seventy percent of her money in gifts. We found that out at a hearing at the COP a few years before she died. I had objected to them registing an EPA for my mother. The EPA was revoked on the grounds that they were unsuitable attorneys. Unfortunately the will was regarded as a seperate issue allthough it was part of a pattern of financial abuse. There were other things that happened before and after the will.
    I have nothing against willmakers, but when it comes to the elderly, solicters are more aware of financial abuse. They are the best people to deal with elderly clients.

  • Comment number 55.

    Hi I'm 18 and my current job is working in a call centre for a will writing company like the ones featuring in the program. First of all I'd like to make it clear that the company I work for is completely legit, has indemnity cover, is part of the intstitute of paralegals and a member of the FWFPP.
    I am working as a telecanvanvasser "selling" wills not because i care much about the subject it just happens to be my job but i've learnt a lot.
    My week has been terrible after the program with people yelling abuse at me after watching it calling me a "dirty theif" etc.
    I just wanted to comment on here to support the "good guy" will writing companies that are out there. As i said before i don't particularly care much about my job so dont think im trying to boost my sales im just fed up of being accused of being a nasty theif.
    The main thing people just need to think about when drafting their wills is to make sure whatever company they use is regulated by a law society or part of an Institute.
    and then as long as you read your paperwork and make sure that whoever is writing your will isn't down as an executor of the will you should be ok. This is where most people get mugged off, solicitors etc aren't legally obliged to tell clients they have put themselves as an executor meaning they're entitled to up to 10% of the estate!
    Please stop throwing the blame from most people's ignorance and lack of reading the fine print on will writing companies, we're not all that bad!
    I do completely understand that there are people out there taking advantage of people for their own monetary gains and I agree that there should be more awareness about the dark side of this industry but don't throw us all in the same group!

    And everyone in the world, just please please please be nice to a telecanvasser! We're people too it's just our job ahaha

  • Comment number 56.

    The industry itself is at fault for allowing shysters and so called bright young men to 'put up their shingle', as said in US films and proceed with their get rich quick ideas.

    They should police themselves responsibly, act in a professional manner, protect their customers and provide reparation where it is proven those members of their charter, guilds, inns or whatever organisation they subscribe to has acted in anything other than an honest professional manner.

    More importantly there should be an urgent and serious Government review of the outdated legal system which exists here in the UK, a system designed for use in an age when 90% of the population were unable to read or write and owned little other than the clothes they stood up in.

    A good place to start would be for an end called to jargon, small print and double talk much loved by what come across as little more than smooth talking thieves.

  • Comment number 57.

    U14580217 wrote:
    Not all Willwriters are corrupt or incompetent.

    Agreed, but why take the chance in the first place. A corrupt or incompetent solicitor will be covered by the law society compensation scheme. A willwriter isn't.

    PaulWilliams68 wrote:
    Was it not the people in this programme who went to prison solicitors?

    No they were not.

    Chimpster wrote:
    This then ties the family into using their services at an absolutely outrageous sum (4.5% of the estate value!).

    That 4.5% is a lot less that the 100% these corrupt people charged !

    GeoffNotts wrote:
    As a practicing Independent Will-Writer, to my knowledge those Will-Writers belonging to professional body, must carry Professional Indemnity Insurance in the region of £2,500,000 in order to protect their customers in the event of negligence, incompetence and the like.

    That insurance isn't worth the paper it's written on when fraud is involved, whereas the Law Society compensation scheme would recompense those at a loss.

    In general ...

    You don't have to have a solicitor (or bank) as an executor.

    The OFT have supposedly looking at regulating this for EIGHT years now.

    Indemnity Insurance doesn't cover these frauds.

    How do I know all this ?

    I was on the receiving end of a very similar, but £3.5m case like this 8 years ago, and got involved in trying to get the industry regulated through BBC TV and Radio programmes.

  • Comment number 58.

    A woman used a company named in the program. She gave them specific instructions regarding putting her house in Trust. They failed to do so but then asked for a further £3,500 to do it. Furthermore the Will had her inheriting her own estate if she died! It was rubbish.

    She had also asked them for advice on the Will such that her son would receive the bulk of the estate. As it happens half the house will now go to the lodger, and out of the remaining half the son will have to pay off all the mortgage, all costs and all other beneficeries. Furthermore, the government are now taking the lodger's half to pay for his care. The son has lost £90,000+, but the knock on effect is that he can't now afford a flat - he shall have to pay rent which will leave him with nothing when he retires. Total cost well over £200,000.

    The worst part though - these sharks wrote themselves into the Will as beneficiaries!!!

  • Comment number 59.

    Our mother died in 2001 after she and her husband had made Wills several years previously through a reputable solicitors, ensuring that children from both marriages would share the estate. They were both told and convinced that the wills could not be altered.
    This year when her husband died and I phoned as one of the executors to inform the solicitors of his death, I phoned several days later and was told they could not speak to me as I was no longer an executor of the "Will" (that could not be altered). My sister asked after our Mothers death and was told also the "Will" could not be altered.
    Another Solicitor told us that unfortunately there was one word missing from the Will, it should have said "Mutual" and we could do nothing to contest it. Have they been miss-sold a "Will"?

  • Comment number 60.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 61.

    I would welcome registration. My son is a very knowledgeable, fully trained and insured will writer who would also welcome registration. His company charge half that of legal firms for both wills and the setting up of trust funds. I am horrified by some of the stories he tells me regarding wills he has been called in to amend that are not worth the paper they are written on. Worse still some of the inappropriate wills have been drawn up by firms of solicitors who do not seem to have a full knowledge of some of the legislation particularly relating to disabled children they also tie people into expensive services like paying to lodge wills with them and acting as executives at extortionate rates. Legislation is a matter of urgency to prevent people losing out.

 

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