Wills complaint scheme ‘bare minimum’, says ombudsman

Topics: Regulation and compliance,Wills & Probate

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  • Adam Sampson

All clients of wills and probate services should have access to redress for poor-quality service, the Legal Ombudsman says today.

And the ombudsman renewed calls for regulators and representative bodies to work together to solve the issues caused by unreserved activity.


Wills and probate accounted for 13% of the 8,000 complaints resolved last year, most about costs, delays and a failure on the part of the lawyer to follow instructions. A remedy was required in 72% of all complaints made.

A further 180,000 wills were written last year by non-lawyers, but these consumers were not entitled to complain to the ombudsman if they were unhappy.

Chief ombudsman Adam Sampson (pictured) today suggested a voluntary scheme for unregulated providers to opt in to and provide customers with the reassurance of a safety net if things go wrong.

‘Some people will have access to help if things go wrong, while others won’t,’ said Sampson.

‘Failing a move to regulate all will-writers; we want the government to at least consider a voluntary ombudsman scheme into which service providers can opt themselves. Provision already exists for the lord chancellor to make this happen.’

A report by the ombudsman said this level of protection was the ‘bare minimum’ consumers should expect.

The idea has the support of the Society of Will Writers, which represents around 2,000 practitioners in England and Wales. The group said a voluntary scheme could offer ‘real consumer protection’.

A report by the ombudsman said all wills and probate providers could better manage client and beneficiary expectations by avoiding misleading promotions and marketing and being clear about potential costs and timescales.

The report says the most beneficial option remains to make will-writing, probate and estate administration a completely reserved activity – a move rejected by the justice secretary Chris Grayling last year.

A regulatory requirement for providers to sign up to the ombudsman scheme would remove the possibility of a lay person attempting any estate administration or will-writing.

The voluntary plan is acknowledged as offering ‘interim protection’ but is the most likely option at present.

Readers' comments (30)

  • The clue is they are "unregulated" providers. Why don't they just be required to state legibly in correspondence "We are an unregulated provider of services. If our services fall below the level of your expectations please see a solicitor to seek redress". Simples.

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  • Functionary seeks to expand his empire, no surprise.

    Parkinson's Laws rule, ok.

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  • They can opt in - but when the time comes for them to cough up some compo, they'll opt out again, refuse to pay, and then there's nothing that LJ Sampson can do about it...

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  • I will never understand why a separate independent system for legal complaints is necessary?

    If a client is unhappy with their Solicitor they are free to withdraw instructions and go elsewhere? If they have suffered a loss through negligence we are all insured?

    A separate independent system for a client to get compensation for a service level complaint (such as not returning calls quickly enough or taking too long to process correspondence) is absolutely ridiculous, and something that doesn't happen in other industries. The remedy for the client is immediate - just take your file elsewhere!

    My only experience with the legal ombudsman has been with the more savvy clients trying to use the threat of a legal ombudsman complaint to pressure the firm into reducing previously agreed fixed fees or to continue working past the point that the clients money on account has been used.

    The whole system is completely unnecessary.

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  • Quite correct Anon 11.56, this regulation is all just a whingers' charter. It is to be noted how it is invariably free of charge. What is wrong with the courts if there has been a breach of contract, or negligence. If there has not been either of those what's the problem? As you say if the service is just shall we say 'shoddy' then the answer is, as you say, go elsewhere.

    This system of complaints just encourages the client to go to any practitioner safe in the knowledge that a complaint to the ombudsman will sort things out. Why not just encourage him to find out who is the best practitioner in his area and go to him?

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  • Maybe the Government should regulate everyone who provides a service or makes a sale. Think what a boost this would provide for employment. There would be a need to recruit armies of fonctionnaires - and then even more in order better to provide for the regulation of the plethora of regulators. Hang on a moment, isn't this rather like an inverted form of state sponsored 'pyramid selling'!

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  • Please excuse my confusion here.
    On the one hand there is Fourteen Years Prison sentence that can be imposed for using " will" in a fraud.
    Then there are remits as in the case of the now closed Ajudicator to HM Land Registry, who did not involve themselves in matters of "wills" or " probate, but turned a blind eye to Deputy Adjudicators who allowed " unprobated wills" into evidence.
    And then there is no proper guidelines to the parameters to the contents of " wills" whether probated or otherwise as the term
    " whatever and wherever" can be stretched to cover all possibilities.
    The obvious point in Law is that to leave something in a " will" , one has to first own it.
    So why when you can prove no ownership existed, in most cases decisions regarding " wills" ( probated or otherwise) still stand?
    There is an obvious need for more background knowledge to be obtained by the person writing a "wil" to ensure no possible confusion follows upon administering the wishes of the maker of a "will" , even to the point of checks to guarantee nothing is overlooked or taken for granted

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  • Why doesn't Grayling admit that he got it wrong.

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  • Why can't pigs fly?


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  • I don't understand the point of LeO.
    Let's imagine a consumer goes into M&S and has a poor service experience. The consumer complains. M&S can decide to offer up some vouchers or do nothing. It's a matter for M&S. There's no Ombudsman scheme for that.
    If I engage an accountant and I don't like the bill because I believe it is too high what can I do? Complain and pay less.
    If I have already paid up front I can sue, if money isn't refunded and I have a valid legal claim.
    The LeO fills this gap and creates an avenue for redress that doesn't apply to another other profession or business, as far as I am aware. Other professions or businesses have to breach a contract or be negligent to pay compensation. Solicitirs just have to be adjudged to have given poor service.
    How on earth has this happened?

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