Brownlie v Four Seasons Group
In July last year, we blogged about the Law Society’s new code of practice for Will writing –the Wills and Inheritance Quality Assurance Scheme (WIQS).
We were concerned that WIQS might not be the best solution for clients because it is extremely long and prescriptive and doesn’t necessarily require lawyers drafting Wills to have particular expertise or qualifications in this area.
We thought the solution might be for our professional body, the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), to do more to educate the public about their role and about what clients should expect from the person preparing their Will.
It turns out that, behind the scenes, STEP was doing just that. Last week, STEP emailed its members to announce a new STEP Code for Will Preparation in England & Wales.
The Code will come into force on 1 April 2014 and will automatically apply to all STEP members, including the lawyers in the Private Client team at Kingsley Napley.
The Code is only seven pages long and so it is very easy for a client to read and check that their solicitor is abiding by it. It sets out the ethical principles and standards of behaviour that the STEP member should follow.
For example, it talks about when and how the solicitor drafting the Will should be named as an Executor. The Executor is the person who will administer the estate when the client dies. If the Executor is a professional, such as a solicitor, they will charge fees for this. It is therefore only right that there are very clear ethical guidelines. It would be very wrong for a solicitor to insist on being appointed – the client must be given a clear choice and information about costs. Under the new Code, if a solicitor tries to take advantage of a client in this way, the client can complain to STEP. STEP has its own disciplinary process and can fine its members up to £10,000.
The Code deals with plenty of other matters, such as keeping proper records, storing Wills safely and keeping client information confidential.
Solicitors are already bound by the Solicitors Code of Conduct so clients may well wonder why this extra code is necessary. It came about because last year the government made the controversial decision that Will writing did not need to be regulated by statute. This was despite the profession being almost unanimous in saying that this was necessary to protect the public.
Will writing is a tricky area because it is a service which anyone can sell to clients. This includes non-solicitors and solicitors who work in other areas of law and who may ‘dabble’ in estate planning. It is therefore not easy for clients to know who to turn to.
Membership of STEP is a very reliable quality mark. Membership is open to solicitors and non-solicitor Will writers alike. However, you do not just pay a membership fee and hang a certificate on your wall. In order to become a member, you need to pass four very intense exams dealing with Wills, administration of Estates, Trusts, tax and accounts.
Only members of STEP can take advantage of the Code for their clients. This means that from 1 April 2014, where a solicitor is displaying the STEP Will Writing Code logo, clients can be confident that they are dealing with a regulated specialist.
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