Will writing by big four banks

Should banks write your Will?

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) must be exhausted. They seem to be looking at all aspects of our financial life. Their aim is fairness. We should all know what we are buying, and those selling must make their advice clear.

The OFT provided a press release 23/11 dated 23 February 2011.

Barclays Bank, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and RBS Group have all voluntarily agreed to review and, where necessary, improve the way they sell will-writing and executor services following discussions with the OFT.

The OFT approached the four banks during 2010 as part of a wider effort to improve the will-writing market for customers and their beneficiaries, following concerns that some consumers were appointing professional executors without fully understanding the likely costs and the alternative options.

The four banks have agreed to meet three key principles, to ensure customers are able to make well-informed decisions:

  • Consumers making a will should not be led to believe that appointing a professional executor is essential or the norm.
  • Consumers should not be encouraged to appoint a professional executor unless it is clearly in their best interests.
  • Providers should be satisfied, before the will is drafted, that the consumer has the information necessary to make an informed choice. The consumer should understand the options around executor appointments and be aware of the likely basis of charging for the professional executor service.

All four banks are currently reviewing their product literature and processes and any necessary changes should be in place within six months at the latest.

There is no requirement in law to appoint a professional executor, although, according to a survey published by the OFT last year, some 43 per cent chose to appoint the professional will-writer or solicitor who wrote their will. While the costs for preparing a will can be relatively modest, the costs for a professional executor to administer an estate can be high and vary considerably. For an average estate, consumers can pay between £3,000 and £9,000. Failing to shop around for executor services could be costing UK consumers around £40 million a year, according to OFT estimates.

David Stallibrass, Director in the OFT Services and Public Markets Group, said:

‘The wrong decision when appointing executors could mean a potentially expensive professional service is chosen, when a family member or friend may be quite capable of handling the task either alone or with professional support. We are pleased that each of the banks has agreed to review its selling practices and marketing literature to ensure customers are getting the information they need to make informed choices.’

NOTES

  1. Barclays Bank, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and RBS Group are the only banks that currently offer will-writing and executor services. Each bank outsources the preparation of wills to external solicitors, but provides the executor service itself.
  2. When a will is prepared, thought will usually be given to who is legally responsible for administering the estate according to the provisions set out in the will. When appointed under a will, these persons are known as ‘executors’. Lay executors – such as friends or family members – can be appointed. Alternatively, one can employ a professional executor, who will administer the estate in return for a fee (often a percentage of the value of the estate). This might be the same person or firm who wrote the will.
  3. The OFT has previously worked closely with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which led to the introduction in June 2010 of new guidance on will-writing and executor services. Since then the SRA, which regulates more than 120,000 solicitors in England and Wales, has noted improvements in transparency for consumers from some large law firms. In June 2010 the Institute of Professional Willwriters’ code of practice, which also covers the principles above, was given approval by the OFT under its Consumer Codes Approval Scheme.
  4. For more information on the OFT’s previous work in this area see the press notice Don’t lose out when preparing wills and appointing executors, advises OFT (16 June 2010)
  5. General consumer advice on will writing and executor services is available on the Consumer Direct website.