Change rules on wills, government urged

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image captionThe Legal Ombudsman cannot regulate wills written by non-lawyers

The regulation of wills should be reformed to prevent people being ripped off, the Legal Ombudsman has warned.

Around 180,000 wills are written by non-lawyers every year, and are exempt from the complaints handling body.

But a report by the Legal Ombudsman has called on the government to open up their services to those using non-regulated providers.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said more could be done but more regulation was not necessarily the answer.

'Room for improvement'

A spokesperson said: "When people write a will it is extremely important for them to have peace of mind that their affairs will be dealt with how they want them to be.

"That is why we have agreed with the Legal Services Board that there is room for improvement in this area.

"However we are not convinced that regulation is the best way forward - we believe other options should be explored first, including better guidance for professionals and making better use of existing consumer information and protection."

The Legal Ombudsman's report claimed that wills and probate were the third highest source of received complaints, and that the market was "suffering from a number of quality issues".

It concluded that "all consumers of wills and probate service providers should have access to redress".

The Ombudsman helped resolve more than a thousand wills and probate related complaints last year.

'Ripped off'

Excessive costs, delays and a failure to follow instructions were some of the common problems faced.

But the independent body is only allowed to take on wills drawn up by regulated service providers.

It said that a lack of regulatory oversight meant that customers could be left with no options if they were "ripped off by the service provider".

Chief Legal Ombudsman Adam Sampson said: "Wills can be prepared by anyone in principle. For people on a budget, this creates headaches about the standard of service one could reasonably expect.

"It also means some people will have access to help if things go wrong, while others won't.

"We want the government to at least consider a voluntary ombudsman scheme into which service providers can opt themselves. Provision already exists for the Lord Chancellor to make this happen."

Claims for mishandling a deceased estate rose three-fold in 2013, with 368 claims lodged in 2013 compared with 107 in the previous 12 months, according to figures from the Chancery Division.

Last year, Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling rejected the advice of the Legal Services Board to make will writing a reserved legal activity.

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