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Consumer experiences required for Scottish Government’s consultation on regulating non-lawyer will writers : Help protect YOUR final wishes

15 Jan

Scottish GovernmentScottish Government announced snap public consultation on will writing. REGULATING NON-LAWYER WILL WRITERS is the subject of the recent snap consultation announced by the Scottish Government, where responses are being sought from consumers, consumer organisations & bodies representative of the law & business who turn over enormous profits from charging the public for writing a will and administering a client’s wishes after death.

The consultation has a limited lifetime of less than 12 weeks, as the Government are considering tabling amendments to the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill which would introduce regulation of non-lawyer will writers & companies which provide such services. Responses must be in by 19 February 2010 and if you value your family and how you wish them to deal with your will after your death, I suggest all readers submit their thoughts, or even experiences in already writing their will, with either a lawyer, or a non lawyer so that any new regulation applied to handling wills in Scotland is inclusive of actual consumer experiences, and protective against any possible malpractice by unregulated individuals & businesses who offer will writing services.

Details about the consultation and the present situation of will writers can be found here : Section 1 Background and current situation, Section 2 Views on the regulation of will writers and please also read Section 3 Options and consultation questions before you fill out the consultation form.

The consultation form can be downloaded from the Scottish Government’s consultations website page here Regulating non-lawyer will writers with a direct download available (in pdf format) here : Regulating non-lawyer will writers: a consultation paper

You can also complete an online version of the consultation paper, which can be found here : Annex A Consultation questionnaire and don’t forget to fill out the Annex B Respondent information form

All responses on this consultation should be emailed to steven.day@scotland.gsi.gov.uk or mailed to : Steven Day, Legal System Division 2W, St. Andrew‟s House, Regent Road, Edinburgh, EH1 3DG and if you have any queries contact Steven Day on 0131 244 2691.

Consumer Focus ScotlandConsumer Focus Scotland have already responded to the plans to regulate non-lawyer will writers, stating : “”We would at this time suggest that the Scottish Government also give consideration to the potential to introduce regulation for individuals or organisations offering will writing services. Whilst such will writing firms have had little presence in Scotland in the past, we are aware some of them have begun to advertise their services here. The Institute of Professional Willwriters has concerns that the recession will lead to an increase in the number of unscrupulous willwriters. Whilst we have no specific evidence of consumer detriment caused by willwriters in Scotland, we have concerns that bad practice will not be discovered until a person has died, by which time it is too late and the family must deal with the consequences of the bad practice.”

In February 2008, Citizens Advice warned people to be wary of adverts and cold calls promising cut-price wills. Which? covered the story in an article in April 2008. Citizens Advice Bureaux reported increasing numbers of people who had been conned into parting with many hundreds of pounds by bogus will writers cashing in on people’s desire to make sure their financial affairs are settled according to their wishes after they die. More recently, Citizens Advice has suggested that the case for independent regulation is considered, but cautioned that it would need to be proportionate to keep small, specialist will-writing firms in the market whilst enabling mass providers, such as banks, to develop will-writing services.

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society’s member solicitors currently cause most of the ‘will fraud’ in Scotland. The Law Society of Scotland said : “The Society has serious concerns about the way in which will writers are currently able to operate without being subject to any form of regulation. A number of our members have reported incidences where they have received visits from clients who have been charged substantial sums of money by will writing companies to have wills drawn up that have either not achieved their intended testamentary objective or have lacked legal competence altogether. The Society would therefore urge the creation of a regulatory scheme for will writers, including requirements such as an entrance qualification, complaints handling through the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, indemnity insurance and CPD to ensure greater protection for the public.” – laughable comments from the Law Society, since it is their member solicitors who each year, rip off millions of pounds from dead client’s wills & bequests …

The Society of Will Writers has summarised its position on the regulation of non-lawyer will writers in Scotland as follows:

* all will writers should be trained to a minimum standard and be required to maintain that standard through the use of Continuing Professional Development;
* all will writers should carry and maintain professional indemnity insurance to a minimum agreed to meet today’s consumer needs;
* all will writers should comply with and adhere to an agreed Code of Practice;
* suitable disciplinary measures, including independent arbitration, should be in place;
* the consumer is held at all times at the heart of the Will Writers code of practice.

I am certainly in favour of regulating will writers in Scotland, as at present there is no regulation of these businesses & individuals who charge a fee for writing up wills and potentially going onto help handle a deceased’s estate after death. In the interests of consumer protection, regulation must be applied to the will writing industry, but certainly a more effective form of regulation than that offered by the Law Society of Scotland against solicitors who mishandle wills (currently & for many years, the cause of most will writing & will handling fraud in Scotland).

With regard to this consultation, we must remember that one of the highest incidences of fraud in the Scottish legal profession itself comes from lawyers administering wills of dead clients, which I have written about in an earlier article, here : Consumer warning on wills : Don’t make your lawyer your executor as soaring cases of ‘will fraud’ show Law Society closes ranks on complaints.

Despite the Law Society of Scotland’s claims to regulate the legal profession effectively, it usually does nothing when a ‘crooked lawyer’ rips off a client’s will. Over the years, Scotland’s lawyers, and many accountants, have milked the estates of their dead clients to the tune of many hundreds of millions of pounds, where an army of unchecked crooked lawyers such as Andrew Penman”, who habitually ruin estates of dead clients in case after case, run around in Scotland wiping out their dead client’s last wishes for the solicitor’s own personal profit & financial gain, often leaving families facing years of difficulty and horror in dealing with the final wishes of their departed loved one who only wished what they once had was passed onto their remaining family & beneficiaries.

Scotsman coverage of some of the stories relating to Andrew PenmanScotsman reported on Law Society’s protection of Andrew Penman who ruined estate. For years its been well known in the legal profession that handling a will is almost like having a license to steal because at the end of the day you know the Law Society will back solicitors up 100% against any complaints over what went wrong. Readers will be familiar with my own past on this issue, where a crooked lawyer by the name of Andrew Penman of Stormonth Darlng Solicitors, Kelso teamed up with an accountant (and executor), Norman Howitt now of Borders accountants JRW Group, to ruin my late father’s estate, details of which can be read HERE here and HERE.

Indeed, frauds committed by lawyers against a client’s last wishes appear to know no bounds of depravity, with even charitable bequests by individuals being pocketed by lawyers & law firms, rather than the intended organisation or charity the money has been bequeathed to.

It is reasonable to expect that, since lawyers are so crooked when it comes to writing, and even handling a client’s will … non-lawyers who are not regulated can in some cases, but not all, get up to the same tricks, scams, and wholesale theft their counterparts in the legal world have fine tuned to an art over many decades, under the wing of the ever crooked self regulating Law Society of Scotland, who will whitewash any complaint made against their member solicitors who just happen to rip off yet another dead client’s will.

Here are just a few examples on what happened to wills handled by solicitors, where the Law Society of Scotland did nothing after fraud had been discovered.

Example 1

will photo stockSolicitor ripped off dead client & family, paid huge interest to his own Bank. An elderly man recently deceased had left his home, possessions & sizeable investments to his wife & family in what he obviously thought was a simple straight forward will, making the mistake of appointing his solicitor as his executor. The first thing the solicitor did was open up three overdraft accounts with a local High Street bank which coincidentally, the solicitor also deals with on a business & personal basis. Over the three years the solicitor took to process his deceased client’s estate, the High Street Bank received a staggering £27,000 in interest alone on the overdraft accounts, despite there being no debts on the deceased’s estate. Documents also now reveal the solicitor negotiated some cheap personal finance from the same High Street bank to purchase a second home.

The widow of the deceased, upon being told the investments in the will had been cut in value by three quarters, made a complaint to the Law Society of Scotland after discovering through careful investigation her late husband’s investments had been changed around by the solicitor at his own discretion rather than being realised and handed over to the family as per the instructions contained in the will. Now the Law Society have backed the solicitor against the family, despite a £250,000 loss being incurred in the late husband’s investments, together with the loss of title deeds to the home in which the widow still lives, while it seems the solicitor has experienced a remarkable increase in his own personal wealth, along with 3 recent top of the range cars.

Example 2

will photo stockSolicitor & accountant ripped off client’s charitable donations via her will. The result of the charitable intentions of a deceased elderly nurse who bequeathed her substantial entire savings including her house, in total valued at over £2 million to charitable causes, has so far resulted in not one of her wishes being respected by the solicitor and a long time friend, an accountant, she made executors of her will.

Charities who were named in the initial will have, after two years, yet to receive a penny, while again, a local High Street Bank has received over £18,000 in interest on several overdraft accounts opened by the solicitor allegedly to pay debts on the estate which never existed. Meanwhile the solicitor has also bought himself a second house, as has the deceased’s’ long time friend’ the accountant, and the charities who were due to receive sums of money are now questioning whether they will receive anything, given a recent letter to one charity from the solicitor suggesting “there was little left in the estate to cover the charitable bequests” – this despite the fact the nurse had no debts whatsoever, and owned her own home.

The paralegal who brought this case to the attention of Law Society of Scotland has been sacked from solicitor’s law firm, and since there is no one to independently monitor how the solicitor and accountant, both acting as executor, have so fraudulently mishandled the estate of their client (and victim) nothing will probably be done against those who have so obviously plundered the estate of their dead client. Even the charities themselves are apparently reluctant to make a complaint to the Law Society of Scotland, possibly because a fleet of solicitors wives and family relatives sit on one of the charities concerned.

Example 3

will photo stockSolicitor stole 400k from will, no action by Law Society. A solicitor named as executor in an estate of an elderly unmarried man who had no surviving family, dying three years ago, tore up the original will of his client, and replaced it with one he had created to cover up the fact that a whopping £400,000 has disappeared from his deceased client’s bank accounts.

The will, which left a substantial bequest to a care home managed by the deceased’s local authority, has also seen the usual huge payments of interest fees to a local High Street Bank, in one case alone of £14,000 of pure interest, the same bank handling the solicitor’s law firm accounts.

The local authority had questioned when the bequest was to be made over to them, after being told by the solicitor there was little left to pay out his client’s wishes. The Law Society are supposedly still looking into the case, with as yet no action against the solicitor concerned.

Example 4

will photo stockSolicitor acting as executor stole over £30,000 from children’s trust. A deceased soldier who appointed his lawyer as executor, leaving everything to his wife & children, has unwittingly placed his family in the position of having to endure sickening refusals by the legal profession to do anything to recover over £30,000 of investments which were placed in a trust by the deceased client, for his children. The solicitor, acting as executor, cashed in the trust and used it to pay off gambling debts which everyone including the Law Society is now trying cover up.

Even serving one’s country it seems, is no guarantee to not being ripped off after death by crooked lawyers out to line their own pockets, with the likes of the good old Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission sitting back and doing absolutely nothing.

The few examples above (just four out of hundreds), show that even lawyers, supposedly guaranteed & regulated by the Law Society of Scotland, are incapable of honestly handling the affairs of their deceased clients – so any regulation brought in to oversee non-lawyer will writers, must be much more effective than the dismal offerings of regulatory guarantee by the legal profession.

Don’t let your will and what you leave behind to your family fall victim to another crooked lawyer such as Andrew Penman or any unregulated individual or business who can offer no guarantees your final wishes will be handled properly without your family being ripped off. Give your views on this consultation and help all Scots to ensure their wills are afforded the proper respect & honesty they deserve.

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