The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners have just published a report on Cowboy Will Writing . It really is a fascinating read.
The difficulty of course is that anybody has a right to prepare their own Will, and therefore by law, anybody has a right to prepare anybody else’s Will. However, nobody can practise law without a license so nobody can give legal advice unless they are qualified to do so. As a result, according to this report, there are five serious issues;
• Invalid wills: Unqualified will writers are producing invalid wills due to basic drafting errors. These errors range from basic typing errors and the use of inappropriate standard clauses through to errors in designing trusts.
• Will writers making untrue claims: Will writers are making untrue claims to consumers. These claims include will writers representing themselves as regulated and insured, some even representing themselves as solicitors. Many are also making untrue claims about changes in the law rendering consumers’ current wills invalid, frightening them into unnecessarily having new wills written.
• Disappearing wills and will-writing companies: Our survey respondents report high incidences of willwriting companies going out of business and their clients’ wills subsequently disappearing. This is despite many of the clients paying substantial sums for the safe storage of their wills.
• Hidden fees: Our report highlights the widespread use of hidden fees by will writers. Many consumers are being duped by wills being advertised at a low-cost only to find additional costs for ‘extras’ such as additional clauses, review charges and storage fees, in some cases causing the price to rise more than tenfold from the advertised price.
• Fraud in estate administration: Despite the significant costs and stress caused by sub-standard will drafting, it is during the process of estate administration where much of the large-scale fraud and theft from estates occurs. This area is as much in need of regulation as is will writing.
The report goes on to give examples of each issue.
The section on untrue claims would be familiar to many people. Unscrupulous Will writers claim things like “without a Will, your estate all goes to the government” (complete nonsense unless you have no family whatsoever including distant relatives). Other practitioners have claimed that they [the will writing practitioners] had to be named as executor and that the client had to store their will with them and be subjected to ongoing storage costs (outrageous), and this one is perhaps the most reprehensible “I recently encountered a non-solicitor willwriting company with a stand in a Milton Keynes shopping centre telling mums with pushchairs that their children will be taken into care if they don’t make a will.”
So it pays to be informed, and circumspect when hiring somebody to prepare your Will. We spend a great deal of effort explaining why it is important to have a Will, but there is no place for misleading sales pitches.
It is also important to draw the distinction between unscrupulous Will writers and using software or an online service to prepare one’s own Will. At LegalWills our services were created by lawyers; we worked with highly respectable law firms from Guildford in the UK, to San Fransisco in the US, to Toronto in Canada. These lawyers and solicitors worked using existing Will precedents (e.g. Parker’s Modern Will Precedents in the UK, and Histrop’s Estate Planning Precedents in Canada) to create a state of the art service taking advantage of the technology available today. The clauses appearing in our final documents are the exact same used by estate planning lawyers and solicitors.
All of our claims are written clearly in our FAQ for public scrutiny; our prices are clearly posted and we charge $34.95 in the US and Canada and £24.95 in the UK. There are no hidden charges as we do not store Will documents, only online versions for ease of maintenance. We would never, ever include ourselves in a Will as an Executor or Beneficiary!! the idea of this is preposterous to us (the trick of a Will writing practitioner naming themself as Executor and then claiming outrageous fees is a systemic problem in the area of estate planning today).
When looking for a service to assist you in preparing your own Will, look for longevity (LegalWills has been offering our services for over 10 years), and professional accreditation (LegalWills has currently, and has always had, an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau).
At LegalWills we welcome the report. There is no place for scare tactics, misleading pitches, unscrupulous business practices and poorly drafted Wills. If your situation is straightforward, consider preparing your own Will using a well established service like LegalWills.