R.I.P. OFF : Lack of independent regulation reveals solicitors, accountants & will writers should not be trusted on wills, final wishes & bequests

16 Aug

Will fraud bkWill fraud by solicitors, will-writers & accountants prove many professions cannot be trusted with consumers final wishes. A CONCERTED CAMPAIGN by solicitors & other financial professionals to retain market dominance in the multi billion pound will writing & will handling business in the UK has been brought back into focus in the past two weeks after allegations were made by solicitors against ‘cowboy’ will-writing private companies offering the same poor, often extortionately costing & woefully under regulated services for will-writing & will handling as many people have already experienced from the legal profession, who currently dominate the will writing & will handling market.

Put simply, solicitors, accountants, will-writers and all their colleagues who are in the will writing & will handling business, should not be trusted by members of the public to handle wills, final wishes & bequests. All are as bad as each other, and all are as poorly regulated as each other. Not one to mend another – trust one over the other, and you are sure to be ripped off, either by the solicitor, the accountant, the bank, or the will-writer.

Sure, there are many professional bodies who openly & publicly guarantee their so-called professional members will never rip off your will, will never rip off your remaining family, will never ruin your final wishes & take what you leave behind for themselves, but the sad truth is all these guarantees are hollow, as hollow as a rotted tree with no innards. I covered this issue in more detail in November 2009, 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

Scotsman coverage of some of the stories relating to Andrew PenmanRipping off the dead – Guarantees from the Law Society of Scotland of professionalism of their solicitors on handling wills are worthless as the media reports time & again. Trust a lawyer to handle your will, and you may well get one of the many Andrew Penmans running around, more of which you can read about here : Solicitors who rip off dead clients : How Borders solicitor Andrew Penman ruined an executry estate Trust an accountant as your executor, and you may well get one of the many Norman Howitts running around, more of which you can read about here : Accountants who rip off wills & abuse their positions as Executors : How Borders accountant Norman Howitt ruined a will and a family

Last week, the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners – the international professional body for workers in the trust industry and the (often overlapping) field of estate administration whose members are mainly solicitors, barristers, attorneys, accountants, trust officers and trust administrators as well as banking and insurance professionals in the trust field, issued a press release claiming that a Survey Reveals Incompetence and Dishonesty of “Cowboy” Will Writers. The Press Release from STEP, bearing in mind their membership includes solicitors, accountants & bankers, reads as follows :

Interim results from a survey published today by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), reveal the scale of the threat posed to the consumer from cowboys in the will writing market. The survey found that 75% of STEP members have encountered cases of “incompetence or dishonesty in the will writing market in the last 12 months”, and prompted STEP to again call for better consumer protection. Two thirds of respondents reported coming across hidden fees which were not outlined in the stated price for a will, and 63% had direct experience of cases where will writing companies had gone out of business and disappeared with their clients’ wills. Just over one third had encountered cases where incompetence had led to significant additional tax bills.

Chief Executive David Harvey said: “This research shows how widespread cowboy will writers have become and it is clear those who charge a fee for writing a will should now be regulated. They must have an appropriate qualification, and they must have proper indemnity insurance. Soon the consumer will be protected by new regulation in Scotland and this benefit needs to be extended to cover the rest of the UK.”

Examples of malpractice included a company which approached young mothers in shopping malls, telling them their children would be taken into care after they died if they failed to make a will. One consumer was charged £12,000 up-front for executor services only for their family to find the firm involved had gone out of business not long after, disappearing with their wills and money. In June the Legal Services Board launched a review of the threat posed to consumers in England & Wales by unprofessional will writers and is currently seeking evidence of consumer harm. The Scottish Parliament is currently going through the process of regulating non-lawyer will writers through the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill.

Certainly an interesting Press Release from STEP, but it hardly tells the real story of what is going on in the UK will industry, where solicitors dominate the market. Notably, STEP use an example where one consumer was charged £12,000 up-front for executor services yet the Scottish legal profession can beat that hands down, where, to quote one example, Edinburgh law firm Turcan Connell charged fees of more than £16,000 to administer an estate with net assets of under £14,000 – and the Law Society then rejected a complaint from the deceased client’s widow, Dr Kate Forrest.

Legal bill wipes out net assets - The Herald January 02 2007The Herald newspaper reported : “[Dr] Forrest complained that the firm had told her only that it would charge £200 an hour, had entered into unnecessary work, and had failed to give her estimates, or issue itemised bills, despite repeated requests. She claims the firm then gave an undertaking to halt the charges, in a meeting with witnesses at the firm’s office, but this did not materialise. When the Law Society examined the complaint, it ruled that the meeting could not be taken into account as the firm had no record of it, and it accepted an explanation by managing partner Douglas Connell that the complaint had been based entirely on a “misunderstanding”. The £16,000 in charges had the effect of more than wiping out any assets in the estate, which had gross assets of £69,574 but debts of £55,731.”

Hardly a glowing recommendation for regulation by the Law Society of Scotland of solicitors handling wills, rather it proves deceased clients will be ripped off by any professional, with no recourse for their remaining family while the solicitor gets away with it – the perfect, ultimate, R.I.P. OFF.

BBC Panorama investigation on wills - no longer existsBBC Panorama report into corruption in the will writing industry omitted problems of solicitors ripping off dead clients. Coincidentally, the BBC’s Panorama programme ran a report on the wills industry, highlighting various rip offs by will-writing companies. The programme bizarrely implied while will-writing companies were quite obviously ripping off consumers to the tune of thousands of pounds, the situation was very different if a solicitor handled a will – something many victims of solicitors mishandling wills all across the UK could easily dispute. Curiously the BBC Panorama programme on this issue is now no longer available, although readers can still view a summarised text version of the report carried out by Panorama journalist Vivian White, here : Call for tighter will-writing laws as consumers duped

The new regulation in Scotland which STEP are referring to in their Press Release, relates to amendments contained in the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, which may well end up seeing the Law Society of Scotland regulate non-lawyer will writers. I reporter on the Scottish plans for regulation of non-lawyer will writers, here : Scottish Government plan to regulate non-lawyer ‘will writers’ may see Law Society regulate all complaints against mishandled wills, legal business

Consumers should be in no doubt the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill is turning into one of the biggest rip offs of consumer choice of legal services in Scotland, a far cry from the intentions of the Which? super complaint and the Office of Fair Trading’s report into lawyers dominance of Scotland’s legal services marketplace.

Since the Law Society of Scotland (dubbed by some as the World’s worst regulator) cant even regulate their own member solicitors when it comes to defrauding deceased clients, wills, executry estates & beneficiaries, I doubt the Law Society is going to be very effective in regulating anyone else who is involved in the rip off will writing & handling industry, unless of course, the Law Society simply use their regulatory powers as an excuse to wipe out the competition, ensuring everyone has to use a lawyer to write or handle a will.

This advice may be hard to swallow, but take it from one who has witnessed, investigated and been a victim of solicitors ripping off the dead – trust no lawyer, accountant, will writer, or any other so-called professional when it comes to your will & final testament, and never appoint one as your executor … its the sure fire road to perdition ….


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