Anyone can operate as a Will writer, regardless of training and experience, and without any external regulation, indemnity insurance or business continuation arrangements. This can lead to expense and disputes arising from lost, invalid, or incorrect Wills.
Following last year’s decision by the Lord Chancellor not to officially regulate Will writing, on 1 April 2014 the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) is introducing a new code for Will preparation in England and Wales.
All STEP practitioners in England and Wales will have to comply with the principles set out in the Code. The general public will have the reassurance that by choosing a STEP practitioner to draft their Will, they are working with a qualified, experienced and professional adviser, who will provide a clear, committed service of the highest standard, in an open and transparent manner.
The 12 principles of the Code will ensure that the STEP practitioner must:
- Be transparent about costs and terms and conditions
- Avoid unethical business practices and conflicts of interest
- Manage clients’ private information confidentially
- Identify the client to avoid fraud
- Assess the client’s mental capacity
- Commit to continuing professional education
- Ensure that they act within their capabilities
- Have the necessary knowledge of the law relating to Wills
Each principle focuses on the client receiving the appropriate advice and service for their individual needs. However it does not set out detailed and prescriptive procedures which may be restrictive or unnecessary for all situations when drafting a Will. To take an example, whilst the Will drafter is required to act ‘expeditiously’ in all aspects of the Will drafting process, no time limits are prescribed within the STEP Code. This is a sensible approach which allows the practitioner to determine the urgency of the matter.
Ultimately, the STEP Code ensures that clients receive the appropriate advice for their individual needs.
Angela Ireland, a full professional member of STEP and Chartered Legal Executive at Steeles Law, welcomes the introduction of the Code: ‘The existing procedures within our Wills and Probate team already comply with the high standards set out by STEP, to give all of our clients the confidence that they will receive the best possible service when having a Will prepared.’
Angela believes that despite the Lord Chancellor’s refusal to approve Will writing as a reserved legal activity, the general public will benefit from the repercussions as the industry regulates itself through professional codes of practice.
As well as the introduction of the STEP Code for Will preparation, The Law Society launched its Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme in 2013. This scheme is optional, but because it is much more prescriptive and detailed than the STEP code, many firms have felt that it is far too costly to join. On the other hand, implementation of the STEP Code should be straightforward for any firm that has well-established procedures and competent, qualified practitioners.
The good news is that these new professional codes will raise the standard of service to the public, which can only be a good thing within the industry. It’s hoped that the STEP Code will become the standard that clients and their professional advisers look for when considering making a Will.
About Steeles Law
Steeles Law is a company providing a full range of legal services to businesses and individuals from offices in East Anglia (Norwich and Diss) and Central London. You can follow them on Twitter @steeleslaw.