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  • Rhoda Cooper

How to avoid unscrupulous wills and trusts advisers

A recent survey by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) highlighted the importance of using qualified, experienced professionals to write wills and set up trusts.

STEP's members, primarily solicitors, accountants and financial advisers, were asked for feedback on their concerns about the quality of wills, trusts and tax advice they had witnessed from other advisers.

Wills and trusts – points to be aware of

Their research identified:

  • the importance of using qualified and experienced wills and trusts advisers;

  • how members of the public can suffer from personal and financial loss due to receiving poor advice;

  • how, in some cases, bad advice had led to significant tax bills, with some ill-advised clients being faced with tax bills from tens of thousands of pounds up to £2 million, which they were not expecting;

  • the costs of using a qualified professional were not prohibitive, with many people paying less than £500 for a will. This compares to some non-qualified advisers offering free or very low-cost wills and trusts, only to charge extremely high costs and hidden charges further down the line; and

  • in some cases will writers add into the terms and conditions that they would be the estate executor and would charge significant fees for administering the estate.

How to make sure you are using a trusted wills and/or trusts adviser

The research carried out by STEP promoted them to give some excellent advice, which Finch tax also endorses, on what you can do to ensure you use a trustworthy adviser to create a will or trust. This advice includes:

Check the adviser's credentials

  • Do they have specialist accreditations, such as being a STEP member? And have they passed any specific qualifications to write wills or advise on trusts?

  • You should also confirm if a professional body regulates them and if they hold valid and up to date professional indemnity insurance. All credible advisers will be happy to confirm these points with you.

  • The adviser should also issue you the terms of business and/or a letter of engagement outlining their services. This document should also stipulate what their costs will be and what their complaints procedure is.

Get more than one quote

  • Do get two or three quotes for the service you require, asking the advisers to stipulate what services they are providing for the fee they are charging.

  • You should not feel pressured to go with an adviser. A professional adviser would be happy for you to shop around to find a suitable person to cater to your needs.

  • Also, check the small print. Some unscrupulous advisers have been known to suggest a low fee to carry out the initial work but then hide hidden costs or even claim a percentage of the estate in the terms and conditions.

  • Making a will is also covered by regulations that allow you to cancel the contract. Please refer to the Cancellation of Contracts Made in a Consumer's Home or Place of Work etc. Regulations 2008.

Beware of scare tactics

  • Avoid any adviser who uses hard sell tactics to try and secure your business.

  • Remember, the adviser should be someone you can trust, so if you feel like you're being rushed into something, it's probably safest to walk away and find an alternative adviser.

False claims about care home fees

  • Be careful if an adviser suggests they can help you keep the family home rather than using it to pay for care home fees. This is unlikely to be accurate and could create big problems if the Local Authority thinks you are concealing assets they can use to cover care home costs.

Understand the terminology

  • If an adviser tries to baffle you with technical and legal terminology, ask them to explain things so that you understand. A trusted adviser would be happy to do this for you.

A press release published by STEP, which highlights the findings from their research, can be found here.

Finch Tax – your local trusted adviser

Rhoda Cooper is the founder and director of Finch Tax and has been advising individuals, trustees and executors for over 20 years. She is a qualified accountant, being a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and a Chartered Tax Adviser. She is also a full STEP member and a regulated probate practitioner.

Working with clients across Leicestershire, Rhoda has developed an enviable reputation for providing trusted, practical advice regarding writing wills, creating tax planning strategies, setting up, administering and closing down trusts, and providing probate and estate administration services for non-contentious probate.

Rhoda offers a free consultation meeting, during which you can discuss your situation and she can advise you on the best way to proceed. To find out more, please email or call 0116 216 7681.

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