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17 July 2012
Consumers will benefit from plans to regulate will writing services, but any new rules will be meaningless unless there is a consistent standard of regulation for all professionals carrying out this work, the Law Society has warned.
The Law Society has described plans by the Legal Services Board to make will writing and estate administration services reserved activities as a major boost for consumers. But it has stressed that the proposed new rules must capture all activities and services that the consumer may be offered or provided when making a will or administering an estate in order to capture high pressure sale techniques and unnecessary costly products that some providers try to persuade consumers to buy.
Responding this week to the Legal Services Board's (LSB) consultation on will writing, probate and estate administration activities Law Society President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said: “We believe that regulation is the appropriate means of protecting the consumer in this area. However, in order to ensure adequate consumer protections are in place it is essential that there is a consistent standard of regulation for all persons authorised to carry out reserved activities. If varying standards are applied it will lead to confusion for consumers about what to expect from different regulated providers and potentially a loss of confidence in the system.
“Solicitors are trained and regulated to provide a good service for consumers. A wide range of legal training, together with the ethical principles of professionalism, owing a duty to the court and acting in a client's best interests, are embedded within both the initial training and continuing professional development.”
The Law Society, in its response to the LSB's consultation insisted that all providers need to have thorough understanding of the relevant law and also related areas of law.
Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said: “There is a clear risk if such professional values and breadth of knowledge is not required of providers who might enter the regulated market for the first time and be authorised to carry out work in this limited area of activity. It is therefore imperative that the right structures are put in place to avoid risk to the consumer and the emergence of double standards of work.
“The Law Society will, next year, launch a solicitors' accreditation scheme to provide an extra level of quality assurance for consumers and appropriate service standards delivering value to the market. The proposed scheme would help the consumer to identify specialists and drive up standards in this market.
“It's important that the proposed new reserved activities capture all activities that the consumer may be offered or provided when making a will or when an estate is being administered. In particular, we are concerned that the current proposal doesn't capture powers of attorney and trusts when they are not connected to the drafting of a will, and could therefore be left unregulated.
“We hope the LSB will give due consideration to the comments we make in our response. This is an important area and it is essential that consumers are adequately protected. The Law Society's dedicated campaign on this issue has been motivated by the absence of regulation for will writing and estate administration services and the damage that the absence of such protection can have on the public.“