Will-writing standards under attack

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Sloppy errors could cost your estate thousands, especially when it comes to inheritance tax. The situation is so bad that the Legal Services Boards is campaigning for will-writing to be properly regulated an an effort to boost standards.

There's increasing worry about basic communication as well as worry about fraud. Why is the situation so bad?


Will-ing and able?

"For many people, the service they receive from their lawyer or will-writer meets their needs," says the Legal Services Board. "But our research shows that there are significant numbers of people receiving poor service and poor outcomes."

It went on: "We found too many examples of providers - lawyers and will-writers alike - not listening to their clients or being sloppy in their work - meaning those taking the important step of writing a will were also, unfortunately, leaving problems to their beneficiaries. The prevalence of poor sales practices, and indeed the incidence of fraud, was also disappointing."

Andrew Smith, a partner at Child & Child in London, says in his experience the most costly IHT mistakes are made when not enough questions are asked - by the lawyer.

Competence

He says a most commonly overlooked IHT area is the availability of various reliefs - like business property relief. "It's not always straightforward. But if you have business property you can transfer [it] to a trust and get tax relief on it".

He goes on: "A will writer must not slavishly do as he instructed; they must enquire. A lack of communication is often about not listening, or not asking the right questions. It's easy to provide a cheap service without exploring the client's affairs. A will writer needs to listen to the answers, then advise."

Clearly not enough listening is being done. The Legal Services Consumer Panel recently found that one in five wills contained serious problems. Formal regulation of the will-writing industry looks at least 18 months away currently.

In the meantime, if you're considering a will, or in the process of making one, make sure will-writing is a major component of your solicitor's business. Enquire too about financial protection should issues arise with a will - or your solicitor - later on.

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