Consultation begins on official proposals to regulate all wills and estate services

23 April 2012

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has published proposals for the tighter regulation of all professional services related to wills, probate and estate administration in England and Wales.

At the moment there is no restriction on who can enter the market and deliver unregulated services, though the act of applying for a grant of probate is already a reserved activity. Currently, about 85 firms operate outside of any regulation - some 1.5 per cent of the market, says the LSB.

Now the LSB is recommending that both will-writing and estate administration "and all ancillary legal activities" be reserved to qualified professionals, where a fee is charged.

However, these activities will not be reserved to the English legal profession alone. Different types of providers will continue to be allowed to operate, though all will be regulated, says the LSB. Moreover, it says, the regulation of those already providing regulated advice will be improved; here it is referring to the outcome of a mystery shopping exercise by the Legal Services Consumer Panel last year, which showed that a significant number of law firms provided unsatisfactory will-writing or estate administration services.

Under the LSB plan, regulatory scrutiny would be mostly directed at the organisation rather than the individual doing the reserved work. Appropriate consumer protections, including consumer access to redress, would have to be in place no matter who delivers the service. There will be a mandatory register of authorised providers, who must have financial protection arrangements, a code of conduct (including one governing sales practices), and appropriate staff training and supervision. Punishments for transgressors will include fines.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) will have to apply for the role of regulating lawyers who do will-writing and estate administration work; it will not be automatically granted authority. Other types of service providers will probably be regulated by different authorities.

The LSB recognises that the changes it is proposing will have a significant impact on STEP members. However STEP welcomes the recommendations, which closely follow its own view that proper regulation of these activities is long overdue - but that they should not be reserved to the legal profession alone, which would have created barriers to legitimate competition.

"The LSB's findings have mirrored those of our own research which indicates how widespread cowboy will-writers have become", said STEP chief executive David Harvey. "We also share the LSB's belief that the regulation of those already providing regulated advice must be reformed, and we will continue to work constructively with the LSB and others as these proposals are developed further."

STEP is particularly pleased that estate administration has also been recommended for regulation - which the Scottish Government omitted to do when it regulated will-writing in 2010.

The 12-week consultation is open until 16th July. Only after that will Government policy be decided and draft legislation prepared. "It will still be some time before regulation arrives, even with a fair wind", said Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, which also supports regulation.

 

• The LSB's proposals only affect paid-for services. Do-it-yourself will-writing and estate administration will continue to be unrestricted.

 

 

Sources

 

LSB (consultation document, PDF)

LSB (impact assessment, PDF)

Legal Services Consumer Panel (PDF)

LSCP (report of July 2011, PDF)

STEP

Law Gazette

Legal Futures

Guardian

 

 


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