Why a CMA investigation into the Will industry is long overdue

Sep 19, 2023

As the Competition & Markets Authority looks into complaints around cheap Wills and bad practice, Ben Mason, Kinherit’s CEO, shines a light on what’s going on…

Let me paint a picture for you.

A man dies at 79, leaving everything to his only daughter. A few years before, he’d written his Will for free with an online firm.

His daughter now discovers this firm is named as her father’s professional executor.  She calls them, and they tell her how much they’ll charge for probate services.

It’s incredibly expensive – way above the going rate.

She says she’d rather do probate herself.  Not possible they say, because her father has legally appointed them as his executors.  She has no choice but to pay through the nose for services she doesn’t even want.

Was her father aware of the probate fees she would be forced to pay when he wrote his Will?  Or did he just think his free Will was a great deal? 

Extortionate probate fees are all too common

It’s a shocking fact that this kind of practice is happening every day across the UK. This blatant exploitation of grieving families is entirely pre-meditated.

It means there are people out there who will be totally unaware of the inflated fees awaiting their loved ones further down the line (especially if the Will they have was very cheap or offered free to them). 

How do they get away with such bad practice?

You’re probably asking why has this been happening? How is it allowed?

Well, there are two main reasons:

  1. The Will industry isn’t properly regulated (anyone is legally allowed to write a Will).
  2. It’s very hard to litigate if you’re dead.

What prompted the CMA investigation?

We can only assume that the number of complaints has risen so much, that the Competition & Markets Authority have finally smelt a very big rat.

They say they’re ‘responding to concerns of misleading advertising, which offers an extremely low initial fee for advice, but does not indicate the final costs can increase significantly.’  They also mention reports of pressure selling and coercion of vulnerable customers.

So, what does this say about UK Will standards in general?

The probate scandal reveals a wider problem with the quality of Wills in this country.

If the main incentive for more unscrupulous firms is to secure probate fees after death, then how likely are they to have consumer interests at heart in the first place?

Will their advisers be properly qualified? Just how well thought through would a Will like that really be?

Don’t be fooled by free or cheap Wills – get proper advice

A Will involves more than you might think.  It’s not a one-size-fits-all document.  It needs to take into account things like the types of assets you own, your family circumstances and personal wishes.

Look for estate planners who train and qualify with STEP – the Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners.  This is the gold standard for Wills in the UK (and the qualification all solicitors strive for).

STEP Will-writers properly understand the wider legal picture, so they can put the best planning in place to make sure that whatever you want to happen WILL actually happen.

At Kinherit we go one step further…

All of our advisers are either STEP qualified or affiliated with STEP, so you’re in safe hands.

But we also recommend our clients appoint trusted family or friends as their executors, instead of opting for a professional executor in advance.

This way, loved ones are given the power to choose the best probate option when it’s needed (not years or decades beforehand).

After all, why should a solicitor or company be appointed executor, when no one knows what to expect in twenty, thirty, forty years’ time?  Let alone know how much they might charge…

We wait with anticipation to hear the results of the CMA’s investigation, and will keep you posted.