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Competition watchdog sets its sights on will-writers

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(24 July 2023)

The Competition and Markets Authority today signalled that it will crack down on firms breaching consumer protection law when providing will-writing, divorce and probate services.

Announcing a consumer enforcement investigation in these areas, the CMA said that for unregulated legal services ‘it becomes all the more important that normal consumer protection laws are complied with and, if necessary, enforced’.

The three main ‘areas of concern’ are will-writing, pre-paid probate plans and online divorce.

Will-writing concerns include misleading advertising over fees and potentially unfair contract terms. Pre-paid probate plans are a new development in the market, said the CMA, which is concerned that elderly and vulnerable people are being pressured into buying unnecessary or inadequate plans. Concerns about online divorce services include misleading claims about the simplicity of the process and prices, and poor service quality.

Chief executive Sarah Cardell said people are shopping around for more affordable options. ‘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,’ Cardell said.  

For its investigation, the CMA will write to an unspecified number of firms to gather information about their practices. Interested parties are also invited to email the CMA by 4 September. 

It is 10 years since then lord chancellor Chris Grayling rejected a call by the Legal Services Board for will-writing to become a reserved activity.

Law Society president Lubna Shuja welcomed the CMA’s investigation.

She said: ‘When writing a will, we would encourage consumers to use a law firm that’s a member of the Law Society’s wills and inheritance quality scheme. The accreditation is a best practice quality mark for wills and estate administration advice. People who use this scheme receive support from a specialist legal professional who is regulated and insured. When writing your own will, it is recommended that you get it checked by a solicitor to make sure it is valid.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)