A couple were told they would have to pay an annual £49 storage fee after spending £4,500 on their wills – which then increased to £89 a year, a report on the impact of unqualified advisers in the estate planning sector has revealed.
STEP (the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) asked members if they had experienced any cases where a will-writing company quoted a fee at the outset but was not transparent about additional charges. Over a third of the 329 responses STEP received said they had.
One member said: 'Significant storage fee, not explained or charged at the time, but requiring payment in order to obtain the original will. At that stage they have the estate over a barrel as time is often of the essence and likely time and cost of disputing the fee are disproportionate.'
Over two-thirds of respondents said they charged less than £500 for standard or uncomplicated wills.
However, one STEP member said unqualified advisers 'claim that solicitors cost thousands and then draw people in with a potentially "free" or discounted will, only to add on charges for each provision contained, for a probate trust that is not needed, storage fees… It can add up to £3,000-£4,000 for something that was originally sold as £100'.
More than half of respondents came across examples of untrue claims being made about care fees. A third of respondents saw cases where incompetence led to significant tax bills.
One member said: 'Client not advised that creation of a lifetime trust would trigger an immediate inheritance tax charge (in this case £22,000) with another falling due if the settlor died within seven years. Settlor died a year later (not unexpected given her age) and the total IHT bill is £45,000. There would have been no IHT due if the trust had not been created and the assets left in her estate.'
The findings have been highlighted in STEP’s response to the Competition and Market Authority’s will-writing investigation.
Sarah Manuel, STEP’s head of professional standards, said: 'All too often, people don’t realise that they have been a victim of rogue will advice until it is too late for themselves and their families… Drafting a will can be complex and it is crucial that will writers are trained, and have a recognised specialist qualification with proven experience and insurance.'
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