The risks of using unregulated will writers
A woman is seeking hundreds of thousands of pounds compensation from a high street bank, claiming the bank's will-writing service resulted in her losing a stake in a valuable London home.
In 2007, her father used the bank’s £90 will-writing service to create a will dealing with his various assets including homes overseas and in London. His will instructed half of the London home to be given to his daughter, from a previous marriage, on his death.
The property was owned jointly by the father and his current wife – who was not his daughter’s mother. Because of the joint ownership, on the father’s death in early 2014, the property went wholly to his wife – in contravention of the wishes spelt out in the will.
The complaint was assessed by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), the bank was found at fault. The Ombudsman ordered the Bank to pay "a fair and reasonable settlement". The bank decided to ignore the Financial Ombudsman's recommendation. The bank said that since its will-writing division was not regulated, it would not have to adhere to the Ombudsman's findings. The Ombudsman had to accept this was technically correct.
In order for the will's conditions to have been fulfilled, the bank should have severed the joint tenancy. This would have enabled half of the property's value to pass as instructed to the daughter. Because the severance process was neglected, the joint tenant, the widow, is legally entitled to the whole property which she can now bequeath as she pleases.
The case highlights the danger of popular, cheap wills which are often too simplistic to reflect accurately their owner's wishes.
Where parents remarry and/or enter into property transactions with their new spouse/partner, new wills should be made professionally. Contrary to popular belief, it is not enough to ‘scribble your wishes on a piece of paper’ or buy an ‘off the shelf will package’ from your local stationery supplier. You should also receive specialist advice on the contents of the will so that further action can be taken to avoid costly consequences. That advice costs but the consequences of not seeking that advice are all too sadly detailed in this case.
Bearing in mind the comments from the bank that nothing can be done because they are unregulated should also serve as a warning to you. All Solicitors are regulated and carry compulsory professional indemnity insurance for your protection.
If you would like us to review your will for you, please call to make an appointment.