The growing popularity of online will writing could lead to a ‘surge’ in contested probate cases down the line, probate experts have warned.
Funeral Solution Expert, a research and consultancy firm, analysed 26 online will writers and found that consumers are often mistaken as to whether their affairs are 'simple' or 'complex', and that the companies themselves ‘offer very little liability for something going wrong’.
‘There is no doubt that an online will can be a good solution if affairs are genuinely simple and can save money versus a more traditional solicitor route,' said Simon Cox, co-founder of Funeral Expert Solution. ‘But our research shows that 65% of consumers who rate their own affairs as “simple” subsequently reveal through questioning that their affairs are in fact “complex”.’
He added that the sector is storing up an ‘ever-increasing bank of wills’ that will be contested once those who made them have died.
The concerns were echoed by Michael Culver, chairman of Solicitors for the Elderly, who said: ‘It’s shocking that whilst solicitor are required to have professional indemnity insurance covering claims potentially as high as £2m or £3m (and many firms go for optional additional cover that can take this as high as £10m per claim), other professionals offering wills limit their liability to the cost of the will.’
The pandemic is believed to have fuelled a rise in will making, with Farewill reporting a 267% increase in the number of wills written at home between 2019 and 2020.
Farewill’s head of legal, Lorraine Robinson, said the business had long recognised, and campaigned for closing gaps in the protection of customers of unregulated firms. However she questioned whether the risk is posed only by the unregulated sector. 'As a solicitor myself, unfortunately qualification as a solicitor is not a guarantee of an individual solicitor or a regulated firm’s depth of understanding of a specialist area of law. For that, as an industry, we often look instead to qualifications such as those offered by STEP, which are open to regulated and unregulated professionals alike.'
She added that many businesses in the unregulated sector are members of voluntary organisations which prescribe minimum levels of indemnity cover. 'To suggest all unregulated will writers are uninsured undermines the diligence and responsibility of many in the sector.'