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Wills: regulation and quality standards

The Daily Telegraph reported this week on a dispute over an alleged botched Will and a resultant dispute between the Will writing division of Barclays Bank and the family of the late Ebenezer Aregbesola. Barclays are contesting the claim which turns on whether they should have severed the joint tenancy on Mr Aregbesola’s property.

Joint property can be held as joint tenants, which means that on the death of one owner the property passes automatically to the surviving owner, or as tenants in common which means that each joint owner can leave their respective share to whoever they wish. In Mr Aregbesola’s case, he apparently wished to leave his half share in the property to his daughter but because the property was owned as joint tenants, and no action was taken to change this, the share passed to his widow instead.

A complaint was made following Mr Aregbesola’s death to the Financial Ombudsman Service who found the complaint to be justified and instructed Barclays to come up with a settlement. Barclays responded by taking the position that the Financial Ombudsman does not regulate its Will writing division and is not bound by its decision.

Despite a recommendation by the Legal Services Board that Will writing should be regulated, and a campaign from the Law Society and others to this effect, in May 2013 the Lord Chancellor decided not to regulate it. This means that unless the individual drawing up the Will is regulated by another body, as solicitors, for example, are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, then there is no system in place to control quality standards or to provide redress if something goes wrong. Many people who have entrusted the writing of their Will to a Will Writer, only to find that he or she is no longer in business when a problem arises, has found this out to their cost.

A Will is a document that deals with all your assets and as such is arguably the most important document that you will sign in your life. As such, whilst value for money is important as in all purchasing decisions, it is important to assess the quality of the service being offered as well as its cost.

The Law Society recently introduced the Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme (WIQS) which provides a best practice quality mark for Wills and estate administration. WIQS sets service standards to ensure transparency in process, costs and communications. At Clarke Willmott we are proud to be the only Top 100 firm of solicitors to date to obtain the WIQS accreditation and would hope that more firms would also sign up in the future to ensure quality standards for Will makers.