How to avoid getting ripped off by a dodgy will writing and probate firms

How to avoid getting ripped off by a dodgy will writing and probate firms

  • Bad practice means people are losing money and buying the wrong deals
  • Now a new probe by the CMA aims to crack down on shark-like firms 

More people are being ripped off by dodgy will-writing, divorce and probate firms, experts say.    

Now the Competition and Markets Authority has launched a probe into these firms to root out bad practices.

The problem is that some dodgy firms operate in parts of the retirement industry, much of which is unregulated.

There were 208,000 unregulated firms handling wills, trusts and probate issues worth £2billion in 2021, according to the Legal Services Board.

No lasting respects: Many firms selling services such as will-writing and probate mislead consumers, sell them duff products and cause them to overpay

UK law means you do not have to be a lawyer to carry out some legal activities.

For example, in England and Wales you do not need to be a lawyer to draw up a will – though many lawyers do provide this service.

In most situations being unregulated either doesn’t matter or can be a good thing – for example, it allows people to save money by drawing up their own wills if they want.

But in some instances it allows shark-like firms to rip off consumers, the regulator warns.

A CMA spokesman said: ‘Alternative providers very often offer services that are innovative and convenient for consumers, and that can be cheaper too. 

‘But where they are unregulated, it becomes all the more important that normal consumer protection laws are complied with and, if necessary, enforced.’

Sneaky tricks to look out for 

The CMA has spotted several problems with some will-writing, divorce and probate firms:

Will writing 

  • Consumers being misled by advertising which offers an extremely low initial fee for advice but does not say that the final bill can be much bigger;
  • Unfair contract wording that can rack up fees for consumers and lead to inappropriate wills being written;
  • Pressure selling and coercion of vulnerable customers.

Pre-paid probate plans

  • Pressure selling on the elderly and vulnerable;
  • A lack of transparency about costs;
  • Plans that do not do what they are meant to; 
  • Consumers being unaware if their cash is protected or not. 

Online divorce firms

  • Misleading claims about how simple and cheap the process is;
  • Poor service, including firms making serious mistakes. 

The CMA is also concerned that if a company stops trading there is a risk that customers’ money or important documents, such as their will, may be lost.

Sarah Cardell, CMA chief executive, said: ‘These may not be frequent purchases, but they are life changing. 

‘That’s why it’s so important that we investigate so that people can select the right legal service for them – for divorce or probate or will-writing – with confidence. 

‘It’s essential that firms get the basics right, including complying with general consumer law which applies to all traders. Customers must get a fair deal.’

The CMA wants to hear consumers’ experience with will-writing, divorce and probate services, as it thinks some are breaking the law.

You can contact the CMA: [email protected]