The proposals have been raised as recommendations from an LSB report on the regulatory approach to will-writing, probate and estate administration. The plans are likely to have a significant effect on consumer choice and on many of the operators currently offering this kind of service.
Evidence in the report indicates a range of 'systemic issues' in relation to pricing, quality, choice, service, and sales techniques from probate professionals, including solicitors. The report stated that there is, "Strong evidence of widespread incidence of wills being drafted that would have failed to deliver what the testator wanted."
While there is not strong evidence to indicate widespread technical errors in current probate services the LSB report stated that there was, "Greater evidence that consumers are regularly experiencing poor service."
Solicitors are not exempt from criticism and were found to be just as likely as the unregulated services to produce poor wills.
Other issues identified in the report included:
Forcing unnecessary services to vulnerable clients
Theft and fraud from estates
Unclear and excessive pricing for services
Lack of consumer confidence
As a result of the report the LSB is calling for action to protect consumers from unfair probate fees. The report states, "Action is needed to protect consumers of will-writing, probate activities and estate administration services and to promote their interests."
In this cast the action required is tighter regulation on all of the services involved.
According to the report the restrictions should encompass all of those charging probate fees. It states, "regulation should extend to all providers delivering will-writing, probate and estate administration activities and ancillary advice in expectation of fee, gain or reward."
Although it also states that all of these services are to become 'reserved activities' this does not mean that solicitors alone can provide these services. It will also allow for 'approved regulators' to be designated.
Following the initial report which was concluded in July there has been a subsequent period of consultation. This will be followed by a final report which will be submitted to the Lord Chancellor. A decision on what action is necessary as a result of this process will follow early next year.