Beware – unregulated Wills and Probate providers targeting vulnerable elderly people!
Statistics released at the start of 2015 by the Law Society revealed that, in 2014, 73% of 16-54 year olds did not have a Will in place. Of those with a Will some 180,000 are drafted by non-lawyers each year according to the Legal Ombudsman. These non-lawyers operate outside of the jurisdiction of the Legal Ombudsman and so if there are any problems with their work these can be difficult to address. Analysis of the complaints referred to the Legal Ombudsman reveals that 72% of the Wills and Probate complaints reviewed required a remedy. However, many deficiencies in Wills and Trusts go unnoticed until Probate, when the Testator has died and the Executors are trying to administer the estate. It is then that any errors in drafting the Will or any problems arising from negligent advice become painfully apparent.
There are also other ways in which the elderly can be vulnerable to the practices of unregulated non-lawyers. There have been reports recently of elderly people in Lincolnshire being cold-called by providers of Wills and Probate services. They offer to protect these elderly people’s assets in the event that they need to go into a Care Home and pay Care Home fees but once they’ve gained the elderly person’s interest they ask them to pay fees upfront. Fears of the effects on an estate of paying Care Home fees are very common amongst the elderly but in reality nowadays there are limits on what can actually be achieved and whilst it is not illegal to ask for fees upfront it is certainly not good practice.
Head of Wills and Probate Linda Cummins warns of the dangers of poorly prepared Wills:
“Many people do not appreciate the complexity of Will writing and Estate Planning so they either attempt to write a Will themselves using a template or DIY kit or they use an unqualified, unregulated operator who appears to offer a cheap option. Any problems often only become apparent after the person has died.
“With Will writing as with so many purchases – you get what you pay for. Without a Will in place, or with a poorly drafted Will in place you are just storing up problems for family members in the future. Having a Will in place is important; equally important is having a qualified and regulated solicitor to draft it so that it does indeed deliver appropriate protection for your loved ones but with the comfort of knowing the regulated lawyer who has carried out the work, has the requisite insurance should any problems arise.”
Content correct at time of publication