Cheap Wills; Hidden Horrors Revealed
Having your will prepared by a non-lawyer, on the cheap, may be highly risky for your loved ones.
I recently acted for Jane, whose partner Jim passed away having made a will using a cheap online will writing service. A red flag for Jim should have been the requirement that the will writing company had to be appointed as executors of his estate after his death.
After Jim died, Jane was aware that his estate was mainly his half share of a property that he owned jointly with her, worth £130,000. The executor was entitled, according to its terms and conditions, to charge 4% of the estate as their fee, around £5,250.00. Very little needed to be done; putting the property in Jane’s name and writing a few letters to sort out some debts. So, the fee was quite a lot, but still to be fair it wouldn’t have been at the eye watering end of the scale.
Very often a partner, spouse or family member is appointed by someone making a will to be an executor, and they don’t charge for the work they do. Many ‘lay’ executors nowadays administer estates on their own, especially if they are fairly simple such as closing a few bank accounts. They can claim ‘reasonable expenses’. If a lay executor appoints a solicitor to do the work for them, of course that solicitor will charge.
However, the will writing company in Jane’s case was greedy. Very greedy. Shortly after Jim’s death they wrote to Jane giving an estimate of their costs for, remember simply transferring the property from the couple’s joint names into her name and paying a few bills. Their estimate came to a total of £20,455.00.
The will writing company refused to stand down as executors despite a polite request that they should do so. They even said they had got a barrister’s opinion (that they claimed Jane would have to pay for) about my letter asking them to stand down! The next step would have been for Jane to apply to the court to remove them as executors. But Jane couldn’t afford to pay the costs for doing that. The correspondence of the company and their solicitors was bullying and aggressive. With my help Jane has managed to side-step the will writing company. The property has been transferred into her name and she has not paid them any of the fees that they have demanded.
Not all will writers are as unprincipled and aggressive as this. Will writing is an unregulated activity which means that you do not have to have any qualifications in order to offer to prepare a will for someone. To be fair, not all wills prepared by solicitors are perfect – but at least usually solicitors are insured in case they make a mistake and are regulated by a professional body which holds the profession to account and ensures high standards are maintained.
For a report prepared by the Legal Services Board in 2016, a survey was carried out by Ipsos Mori which found that approximately 9% of purchased wills in an average year are prepared by unregistered providers – that’s 65,000 wills every year. The average cost of a will prepared by a regulated provider, e.g. a solicitor is £176.00 and by an unregistered provider is £136.00.
For an average extra £40.00 my advice would certainly be to have a will prepared by a qualified, regulated solicitor. Jane is still traumatised by the treatment she has received from the online will company that prepared Jim’s will – and that is by no means the legacy that he intended to leave her.