The Legal Services Board (LSB) has called for sweeping regulation of the will-writing industry after finding systematic problems with the services offered by solicitors and other providers.
The LSB oversees the regulation of lawyers across England and Wales. It was commenting after investigation by the Legal Services Consumer Panel.
The investigation found that the service delivered by firms in the sector was systematically poor, sloppy and dogged by simple procedural errors. In the worst cases customers were subjected to unfair and pushy sales tactics, and in a few instances customers were actually stolen from.
In the survey one in five wills drawn up had problems. In one notable case a firm offering to store documents in Somerset House in London, was actually storing them in a barn in Somerset.
The research has prompted the LSB to demand that all firms offering will writing and estate administration should be regulated to protect consumers.
Chris Kenny is the chief executive of the LSB.
"In some cases it's just one more thing for grieving relatives to sort out, but in others it is done so badly that the will wouldn't be operative and relatives would have to go through a lengthy legal process to sort things out," he added.
The Law Society has previously suggested that services such as will writing and estate administration should only be carried out by registered law firms. The LSB disagrees with this proposal, however, saying that it would limit consumer choice.
"We want to keep diversity; a lot of the new entrants are bringing cheaper, lower cost and more accessible services to people, which is good," added Mr Kenny.
It is thought that it could take at least two years for any regulatory policy to be implemented. However, the LSB stress consumers should not be discouraged by the report and should plan their affairs as normal.
"The message we are very keen to put across is that you shouldn't let the problems there are in the market put you off making a will," he said. "We are not in the business of scaring people."
To ensure quality, the LSB recommends consumers only use reputable firms who are members of a professional body. They should ask how long the company has been operating and what protections are in place if there is a complaint or the company goes into administration.
Read more on the story (The Guardian)
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Find an estate-planning solicitor anywhere in the UK (FindLaw)