Inadequate online wills could lead to surge in family disputes

The increasing use of unregulated online will writing services could lead to a surge in family disputes over a loved one’s estate, researchers have warned.

Online services have become more popular over the last few years, particularly during the Covid lockdown periods.

The consultancy firm, Funeral Solution Expert (FSE), analysed 26 online will writers. It found several problems with some of the services offered. For example, some firms offer cheap will writing services for clients whose affairs are simple and straightforward.

However, many people mistakenly think their affairs are simple but later discover that they are in fact quite complex, and their wills have to be rewritten at extra cost. Some people never get the chance to correct ineffective wills before they die, leaving their families to resolve difficult inheritance issues at a time when they may be upset and grieving.

Simon Cox, co-founder of FSE, said: “Our research shows that 65% of consumers who rate their own affairs as “simple” subsequently reveal through questioning that their affairs are in fact “complex.”

He said it means that in many cases, people are creating “an ever-increasing bank of wills” that will be contested after their death.

Part of the problem is that most people don’t realise that will writers are not regulated and there is little comeback against them if things go wrong. By contrast, solicitors are strictly regulated and must have insurance to cover liability for any mistakes that may occur. This means you have legal redress if something goes wrong, unlike with an unregulated will writer.

A recent Wills & Probate Consumer Research Report said: “A core strength of the major traditional providers in the market, i.e. law firms and solicitors, is that these providers are the choice of most consumers making a will.

“Client loyalty is also relatively high, despite the use of legal services being an occasional one for most individuals, with many consumers going back to law firms and solicitors that they have used before.”

The research reinforces the findings of a recent survey by Will Aid, which found that more than 6 out of 10 people prefer a qualified solicitor to write their will so they can be confident that it’s done properly.

A spokesman for Will Aid, said: “Drawing up a will is a vital financial planning step but the lure of the cheaper alternatives to solicitors can mean the document is not properly written or legally binding.

“While an off-the-shelf will might seem attractive to those who are watching the pennies, it could be money wasted rather than saved.

"It is evident that the public prefer to use a solicitor to write their will, wherever possible. They are aware that with a solicitor you can be assured of a valid will and if anything does go wrong there is proper insurance and redress. This may not be the case with an unregulated provider and certainly isn't the case if you write your own will.”

The Law Society has also urged people to make a will and ensure that they only use a fully qualified solicitor. A spokesman said: “A badly drafted will can cause more problems than no will at all, so the Law Society advises against using unregulated will writers. All solicitors are subject to strict regulation to ensure that they deliver the best service to their clients, unlike unregulated will writers.

“Solicitors are unparalleled in the will writing market as only they have the breadth of training to consider wider implications and complex issues, including tax and family law.”

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