Surveys reveal consumers frequently make poor choices in will writers & executors. EVERY ONE of us should ensure our assets & financial affairs are put in order after we die, however the dangers of writing a will with an unscrupulous professional such as a crooked lawyer or an overcharging bank are well known to many families & relatives across Scotland who, after the death of their loved ones, have ended up being forced to deal with complicated complaints procedures put in place by biased self regulators such as the Law Society of Scotland or some rather dubious Ombudsman with little or no powers to put right the inevitable financial disaster for the beneficiaries, while the solicitor or bank pockets the remains of the will.
OFT say consumers should not be led to appoint a professional solicitor as an executor. Today, the will writing services of the banks has come under wider public scrutiny as the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announced the big four banks, Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group & Royal Bank of Scotland have all voluntarily agreed to review and, where necessary, improve the way they sell will-writing and executor services. The move follows discussions with the OFT during 2010 as part of a wider effort to improve the will-writing market for customers and their beneficiaries, following concerns that some (well, most) consumers are appointing professional executors without fully understanding the likely costs and the alternative options.
The OFT’s announcement states the big four banks have agreed to meet three key principles, to ensure customers are able to make well-informed decisions.
- Consumers making a will should not be led to believe that appointing a professional executor is essential or the norm.
- Consumers should not be encouraged to appoint a professional executor unless it is clearly in their best interests.
- Providers should be satisfied, before the will is drafted, that the consumer has the information necessary to make an informed choice. The consumer should understand the options around executor appointments and be aware of the likely basis of charging for the professional executor service.
The OFT reported all four banks are currently reviewing their product literature and processes and any necessary changes should be in place within six months at the latest. Barclays Bank, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and RBS Group are the only banks that currently offer will-writing and executor services, however consumers may not always be aware that each bank outsources the preparation of wills to external solicitors, although the bank provides the executor service itself.
While the OFT survey applies only to will writing services of banks, services which are used perhaps more so in England & Wales than in Scotland, many Scots consumers who are thinking of writing a will usually end up blindly walking into a solicitors office somewhere in the country, with absolutely no knowledge of what to expect from their solicitor or bank in terms of what kinds of services are offered, how much a will could cost to be implemented after death, and what action could be taken by beneficiaries if there is poor or negligent handling of a will by the executor, the bank, the solicitor or the will writer who drew up the will in the first place.
If the lack of information on costs of handling a will and how to put things right if its handled badly isn't confusing enough, the serious question of who to appoint as executor is often handled poorly by consumers, who, almost unbelievably in 2011, end up appointing the same solicitor who writes the will, which is almost like giving a blank cheque to a house burglar who will more often than not charge as much as they can for handling a will after death, to the point in some cases, there is no money left for anyone except themselves.
The OFT today reminded consumers there is no requirement in law to appoint a professional executor, although, according to a survey published by the OFT last year, some 43 per cent chose to appoint (usually through ignorance) the same professional will-writer or solicitor who wrote their will.
While the costs for preparing a will can be relatively modest, the costs for a professional executor to administer an estate can be high and vary considerably. For an average estate, consumers can pay between £3,000 and £9,000. Failing to shop around for executor services could be costing UK consumers around £40 million a year, according to OFT estimates.
David Stallibrass, Director in the OFT Services and Public Markets Group, said: “The wrong decision when appointing executors could mean a potentially expensive professional service is chosen, when a family member or friend may be quite capable of handling the task either alone or with professional support. We are pleased that each of the banks has agreed to review its selling practices and marketing literature to ensure customers are getting the information they need to make informed choices.”
When a will is prepared, thought will usually be given to who is legally responsible for administering the estate according to the provisions set out in the will. When appointed under a will, these persons are known as 'executors'. Lay executors - such as friends or family members - can be appointed instead of appointing a solicitor who can end up charging what they like for administering the provisions set out in the will.
The alternative is that consumers can employ a professional executor, who will administer the estate in return for a significant fee - often a sizeable percentage of the value of the estate or possibly even the entire estate if the actions of some solicitors are taken into account. Any consumer ignorant enough to appoint such a person who is covered by their profession’s self regulator may end up appointing the same person or firm who wrote the will such as a solicitor. Bad decision in nine out of ten cases.
Speaking from a personal perspective as a victim of the legal profession over a will rip off, if you do end up appointing a solicitor as your executor, you may well end up with an Andrew Penman, or a Norman Howitt which means you are basically giving all your money, property, possessions etc over to a lawyer so they can enjoy it. Bad decision.
Don't do it. Don't fall into the trap of trusting the person behind a desk in a lawyers office just because they sit in an office and give the appearance they can be trusted. The experience of many people each year in Scotland indicates when it comes to wills and solicitors, the phrase “Where there’s a will, there’s a crook“ has considerable weight.
Case after case has proved the Law Society & SLCC take no action against lawyers who rip off wills & bereaved families. Do you really want to put your remaining family, friends or loved ones through the nightmare of dealing with a crooked lawyer, crooked law firm, or even worse, having to go through the self protecting Law Society of Scotland or the anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission ? Take my advice, avoid it all and make sure you never appoint someone such as a solicitor or an accountant as your executor, certainly not in Scotland, because there are absolutely no safeguards to poor, negligent or even the criminal handling of wills by Scottish solicitors.
Given the significant degree of negligence or even criminality in the handling of wills in Scotland, it is long past time for a review of will writing services offered by the legal profession, and wider public education of the real costs & hidden dangers of who you as consumers allow to write & implement your final wishes.
However, any such review of the disgraceful state of will services offered by the Scottish legal profession may well have to come from south of the border because most political parties in Scotland realise its just too much of a cash cow for their friends & donors in the legal profession, a cash cow for lawyers which is guarded to the death …
My previous coverage on the subject of wills, will writers, and the crooked lawyers who handle wills can be found here : Where there's a Will, there's always a crook, a crooked lawyer & a crooked self regulator