26/07/2023 by Northwood Banks & Co.
Welcoming the CMA Investigation in to Will Writing & Probate Plans
We welcome this investigation by the CMA (Competition & Markets Authority) as we aim to maintain excellence in consumer practice and professionalism in our work.
As part of a Government working party several years ago our colleagues in the HAIG Legal Group made strong recommendations that Will Writing and Estate Planning should be regulated. However, the recommendations were not taken up, and the sector remains without regulation. Recently, the CMA (Competition & Markets Authority) have begunan investigation into several practices used by some unreliable firms in the industry. We welcome this investigation as we aim to maintain excellence in consumer practice and professionalism in our work.
In the area of Will Writing the CMA note that the sector is not regulated and that people often write their own Wills. They have identified three areas of concern. The first is regarding situations where consumers are misled by advertised low fees which do not make clear that costs can sometimes increase noticably. We always publish our prices on our website and let potential clients know exactly what is, and what is not covered, by any advertised prices before we take their instruction.
The second point of concern that the CMA looks at is unfair contract terms, for example exclusions of liability, failure to provide cancellation rights, and the automatic appointing of the Will Writing firm as an executor. These are important issues which we have always taken very seriously. Part of our standard procedures include potential clients being advised of our cancellation period during purchase and then sending them a welcome e-mail prior to taking their instruction which re-iterates this and links to our terms of engagement.
It is our strong belief that in many cases using a professional executor is the more appropriate option when dealing with Probate and Estate Administration. However, we do not, and would not, automatically appoint ourselves as such. The whole area of choosing executors is dealt with, in depth during the instruction process and we will always respect our clients’ wishes.
In addition to Will Writing the CMA investigation is exploring the disreputable area of Pre-paid Probate Plans. Their concerns here are pressure selling techniques, especially to the elderly or vulnerable people, a lack of transparency of what costs are covered, unnecessary or failed plans, delays in probate leaving the bereaved unable to settle bills or sell property, and lack of awareness regarding the security of an individuals’ estate.
We have always believed that these Probate Plans are very questionable, we do not support them and have never sold them. During our communication with potential and current clients we avoid any pressure selling, and have on occasion refused to provide a service for someone we felt may not have the capacity to understand the servies and products we offer.
Although we do not, and will not, sell these plans we do understand the CMAs concerns over this. Which is why, where we provide Professional Executor or Estate Administration services, we are fully transparent of what we include, and what additional charges and disbursements may be incurred. As everyone is all too aware of the current delays in obtaining Probate we stay in regular touch with the Court chasing up on the behalf of our clients, and should we believe that a Professional Executor is not required we simply would not advise one.
It is our company vision to make Private Client Legal Services available for as wide an audience as possible, accessible to everyone, and affordable for all. We aim to achieve this by working to the highest standard, as transparently as possible, and following excellent consumer practice. It is a concern that there are companies out there who fail in these areas and this is why we welcome the CMA investigation as it can only benefit both the consumer and the industry.