STEP report reveals costly pitfalls of unqualified will advisors

A lack of regulation in the will-writing industry in England and Wales is leading to erroneous wills, hidden fees, and gross incompetence, costing individuals and families millions in extra taxes and distress, according to a new report by STEP, the professional body for inheritance advisors.

Titled “Wills and Trusts: Buyer Beware,” the report is an in-depth look at the estate planning sector and reveals significant risks tied to unqualified advisors.

The study involved 329 STEP members who regularly draft wills and advise clients, many of whom have previously received faulty advice on wills.

According to these experts, 79% have encountered errors in wills, and 63% have seen will-writing companies impose extra costs that were not included in their original fee structures.

Furthermore, 54% of the advisors noted cases of rogue firms making false claims, with 71 of those indicating that advisors had incorrectly informed clients that they could bypass care home fees by transferring their assets into trusts.

Sarah Manuel, head of professional standards at STEP, said: “These findings are sadly not surprising. There is no regulation of will writing in England and Wales. Anyone can set themselves up as a will writer leaving unsuspecting members of the public without protection.” She added: “All too often, people don’t realise that they have been a victim of rogue will advice until it is too late for themselves and their families.”

Separate independent research commissioned by STEP, surveying 2,000 UK adults, underscored the findings. Nearly half of those surveyed (49%) confessed to not having a will. Among the 51% who do possess a will, a staggering 22% relied on low-cost online solutions, while an equal proportion opted for a do-it-yourself approach.

Manuel warned that: “False promises about avoiding care home fees and misleading advertising are commonplace. Far too many people are lured into thinking getting a free or cheap will online will save them money when this is not always the case.”

In light of these findings, STEP has written to the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA), advocating for regulations and urging the recognition of specialist will qualifications.