The third edition of the UK Wills & Probate Market 2020: Consumer Research Report has just been published and provides some fascinating insights into the public’s reluctance to write a will, writes Shelina Vaiya, a Solicitor in our Private Client team.
The report is based on responses from 2,093 adults (755 who had a will, and 568 who had been through probate) and compares responses received between 2020, 2019 and 2018.
The characteristics change very little from year to year but the pandemic has resulted in changes in Wills and Probate law led by a clear interest in online consultations, online probate applications, and online court hearings.
Will writing is still an activity which most individuals fail to prioritize. It becomes of greater importance as clients get older, who have possible built up sizeable assets and this is reflected in the latest survey. As in previous years it is the older age groups – 55 and over – where will ownership is very high and will ownership in all age groups below 55 is much lower. Dealing with probate is also an activity that is largely the preserve of older adults. Law firms and solicitors are still used by a majority for both wills and probate advice, despite increased competition from others.
COVID-19 has had a short-term impact but there are also longer-term effects that seem to have been accelerated by the pandemic. First, 4% of those making a will say that they were persuaded to do this as a response to the virus. Virtual consultations and online court hearings have become part of the legal process during the pandemic and feedback suggests that they are here to stay: over half of all consumers say that they would be happy to have a virtual consultation, and 40% would be willing to take part in online court proceedings, twice as many that would still prefer a physical court appearance.
Video witnessing of wills would be acceptable to over a third while over half would be willing to use the Ministry of Justice’s online probate portal in the future if they had to deal with straightforward probate. Already, almost a third of those involved in probate have used it.
Fixed fees now account for the overwhelming majority of fees paid in the wills market and almost half of probate fees as competition increases in both sectors.
This year there has also been some modest increase in the use of related services, for example advice on powers of attorney (POAs), living wills, and retirement planning. Plus, more consumers than in previous years across the overall sample express an interest in using these other services.
Consumer confusion over regulation in the sector is still a major concern and the lack of understanding about the difference between regulated and unregulated providers has worsened in 2020: over six out of 10 consumers assume that the sector is regulated and the percentage confused about regulation has increased again in 2020 after increasing in 2019. This confusion is likely to be compromising consumer choice.
Summary of the Key Findings
- No change in the ownership of wills across the age groups;
- Law firms and solicitors are the main go-to source for wills advice;
- Almost half go back to a law firm/solicitor used before;
- Over 80% have appointed an executor turning mainly to private individuals;
- Client satisfaction is relatively high for most service features;
- Fixed fees continue to increase their share of the market;
- Five factors would be important to over 90% when choosing a will writer;
- Consumers remain unclear about regulation in the wills market;
- Solicitors are the best source for most but more interest in DIY wills;
- Fewer than 4 out of 10 have made a will;
- Making a will provides peace of mind;
- DIY wills still only used by a small percentage – fewer than 10% in 2020;
- Those not making a will – is consumer apathy the problem?
- Probate is remain relatively simple for a large majority of executors;
- Probate advisors are mainly law firms/solicitors, but a third used the MoJ portal;
- Just like the wills market, probate advice is mainly delivered by law firms and solicitors;
- Fixed fees have become the main pricing option for probate services;
- Virtual consultations are fine for most, and over a third happy with video witnessing.
We know that dying and post-death matters are topics most people would prefer not to have to think about, but it is so important to face the practicalities around them. At Bishop & Sewell we always strive to make the process as straightforward as possible. Making a Will is now just a normal part of preparing for the future – one that brings peace of mind that your assets and wishes will be taken care of in the way you would like them to be.
Our Private Client lawyers have the knowledge and experience to guide you through these challenging times and have been ranked in the Legal 500 for their expertise.
If you are in need of advice or assistance on any of the issues mentioned in this article please contact Shelina Vaya or another member of our expert Private Client Team on 020 7631 4141 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The above is correct as at 24 December 2020. The information above may be subject to change as this is a constantly evolving situation.