Best Practice in Will Writing
Whether you’re just setting up your own Will writing business, or you’ve been established for years, ensuring best practice not only means a better service for your clients, but could also result in fewer, or even no complaints, more referrals and repeat business later down the line.
The following article will outline what we consider to be best practice in Will writing.
Training and CPD
As simple as it may seem at first, you wouldn’t be able to drive a car without any training, so why would you treat Will writing any differently? This comparison may seem a little crude, but it goes without saying that you shouldn’t be advising clients on what to do with their estate if you don’t know how best to advise them. When setting up your Will writing practice, you should first seek some training to ensure that you have at least covered the basics of Will writing. You can then develop your knowledge and delve into more complex things such as trusts, enabling you to be able to offer a wider range of services to your clients.
Members of the Society are required to complete a total of 24 hours Continual Professional Development (CPD) each year, largely to ensure they keep up to date on changes within the industry, but to also keep a firm grasp of their knowledge of estate planning.
The College of Will Writing offers a range of courses covering all things estate planning and more. Each course also carries a set number of CPD hours which count towards members’ annual quota.
Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII)
Are you insured for the work you’re doing? It is a mandatory requirement of the Law Society for all solicitors to carry PII and the Society demands the same of its members, covering them to a minimum of £2m. PII is for both the Will writer’s and the client’s benefit and will help protect you in the event of any claims through negligence, error or omission. Society members can access insurance through our partner Jelf, which offers comprehensive cover up to £2.5m.
Code of Practice
The Society enforces a strict Code of Practice which all members must adhere to. This is essentially our rule book and it must be read and signed when applying to join the Society. Anyone found to be in breach of it may face disciplinary action. Our Code of Practice also sets out Statutory Obligations that must be adhered to such as the Consumer Contract Regulations and Consumer Rights Act, offering further protection for clients.
Terms of Business and Client Care
You should have terms of business in place, the Society requires all members to have this, and for good reason too. It forms part of the contract between you and the client and sets out important information such as document production times, cancellation rights and information on complaints. Make sure that your clients have read, understood and signed your terms of business before completing any work for them and always keep a signed copy on file. Society Members can download our template terms of business from the resources section of the members area.
A lot of Will writers offer home visits, which is a good way of making your services accessible to more people, however, you must take special consideration if a client is vulnerable in any way and ensure you’re taking instructions only for those present at the time. The same applies if taking instructions over the phone, do your due diligence to ensure the information is being given freely and the testator is fully aware of what they’re doing.
Wills should be updated every 3-5 years to take into account any change in circumstances, new property, business assets, beneficiaries or exclusions, for example. Taking good care of your clients and keeping in touch with them will help ensure they come back to you for updates, instead of looking elsewhere. Although, be wary of offering “lifetime updates” because if for whatever reason you cease trading, or you hand your Will bank over to another company they may not honour this service leading to clients becoming disgruntled and potentially raising complaints.
There are many important things to consider when providing documents to your clients. Timescales, drafts, attestation being a few. Your timescales should be set out in your terms of business, we’d suggest no more than 4 weeks to provide final documents to your clients. If providing drafts, are you watermarking them as such? Complications can arise if you don’t as clients might mistake them for the final documents. Ensure that all parties involved are happy with the content and that their wishes have been correctly translated from the instructions you took. Are the documents easy to understand? If you’re using software to draft your client’s Wills, is it producing documents full of complicated legal jargon that your client’s may not understand? A Will commentary, or a Will written in Plain English will assist here.
Ensuring documents are signed and witnessed correctly is vital. If you aren’t going to be there in person for the attestation, are you providing suitable instructions to ensure all goes smoothly? The documents also need to be properly bound, and you should consider providing a copy of the documents to the client if they aren’t keeping the original themselves. You could also watermark this to avoid any confusion about it being the original document.
If you’re looking for drafting software that can assist with all of the above, Sure Will Writer produces all Wills in Plain English and provides a commentary as well as a signing guide to make things as easy as possible for your clients.
Do you offer to store the documents for your clients or do you provide them with the documents and leave the rest to them? Storing documents at home can lead to all kinds of issues. They could get lost during a move or even damaged in a house fire or flood. Safe storage facilities are much more secure and there are a handful of storage facilities around that exist solely for the purpose of storing Wills and other legal documents. Some free, some not, and generally those that charge offer a much better service, opposed to free facilities which often come with a catch of some sort. It would be worth considering a safe storage solution not only for your benefit since it keeps the documents out of your office or home, but mainly for your clients who will have peace of mind knowing it’s in a safe facility and can be easily retrieved when the time comes.
The National Will Archive offers a low-cost safe storage solution for all members of the Society where all documents are checked for validity and scanned on arrival.
In an age where an ever-increasing amount of business activity is conducted via the Internet, keeping client data secure should be a top priority. With the introduction of GDPR earlier this year, many Will writing companies have been prompted to tighten their security measures and in rare cases, start implementing them altogether. Considerations need to be made towards the data you hold, how much of it is relevant or required, where it’s held, who has access to it and what is being done to keep it secure. Most cloud-based software solutions will be GDPR compliant, will be penetration tested and have the necessary security measures in place, but it doesn’t stop there. Ensure computers are password protected or encrypted if necessary, that they have up to date antivirus/malware programs as well as a firewall in place.