The gold standard for wills
Why did STEP decide to introduce the Code for Will Preparation in England & Wales?
In an increasingly regulated world, it has long seemed to me odd that the preparation of the most sensitive document most people will ever sign, their will, is almost entirely unregulated in England and Wales. Anyone can do it, whether or not for reward. There are no universal standards of practice beyond those areas where the courts have intervened. For some considerable time, there have been calls for statutory regulation; last year, for example, the Legal Services Board recommended that will writing be made a reserved activity. The government, however, rejected its proposal, and instead called on professional bodies to develop their own codes to regulate will writing. STEP’s Code for Will Preparation in England & Wales (the Will Code) was drawn up in response to the government’s request, and within the Society’s professional standards framework.
Were STEP members consulted?
Yes. STEP’s 2021 Consultation exercise has been taking place over the past year and has highlighted STEP members’ desire that the Society become a ‘gold standard’ professional body, committed to ensuring strong professional standards. The Will Code was drafted under the auspices of STEP’s Professional Standards Committee and STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee, with additional input from our UK Practice Committee.
What is the Will Code?
The Will Code is a guide to established best practice in will preparation. It is neither revolutionary nor excessive. Rather, it reflects a set of behaviours precisely mirroring the expectations of the client: that they will be dealt with conscientiously, ethically and in a timely manner. These are principles that STEP seeks to promote in all areas of practice undertaken by its members. In the absence of statutory regulation, the Will Code provides essential guidance for STEP practitioners, and assurance for their clients that they will enjoy the highest levels of service when instructing a STEP member to prepare their will.
How will it work in practice?
There is no cost or bureaucracy involved in adhering to the Will Code. It exists as a framework to determine how best to meet your clients’ needs. For most STEP members, the introduction of the Will Code will have little impact on their day-to-day business, as they are already working to the principles set out in the Will Code.
The Will Code is a living document, which may be updated to reflect the needs of practitioners as required. We have already received constructive feedback from STEP members.
When does it come into effect, and to whom does it apply?
The Will Code will come into effect on 1 April 2014, and will apply to all STEP members who prepare wills in England and Wales. Variations of the Will Code designed to work within the legal, regulatory and professional body framework of other jurisdictions may be developed in the future.
How will the Will Code benefit STEP members?
All members in England and Wales must adhere to the principles in the Will Code as a condition of STEP membership. These high professional standards act as a mark of quality, setting our members apart from other practitioners. Eligible practitioners who comply with the Will Code will be able to market themselves accordingly with the Will Code logo.
Who can use the Will Code logo?
Use of the Will Code logo is restricted to full Members (TEPs); and Associates, Affiliates and students of STEP who have successfully completed the Advanced Certificate in Will Preparation.
Detailed information as to who can use the logo can be found in ‘Rules for Use of the Will Writing Code logo’. This document can be accessed online
What happens if STEP members violate the provisions of the Will Code?
Any STEP member in breach of the Will Code will be liable to STEP’s disciplinary process, which can issue penalties or, ultimately, order expulsion from the Society. Should a client file a complaint, STEP will investigate and, if it finds fault on the part of the member, respond in proportion to the seriousness of the offence.
Does the Will Code complement will-writing schemes administered by other professional bodies?
In developing the Will Code it was recognised that many STEP members (or their employers) may also be subject to other codes of conduct in this area. Considerable care has therefore been taken to try to ensure that the requirements of the Will Code do not conflict with the requirements of the other major schemes. As we note in the Will Code, if a STEP member feels there is such a conflict, we ask that they seek the guidance of the Society’s Professional Standards Committee.
Some members have commented that they are already subject to regulation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and to make clients aware of more than one complaint procedure, for example, might prove confusing for them. How would you address this concern?
The Will Code primarily exists to inform clients – to provide a specific frame of reference for clients both to understand the process involved in will drafting and to be aware of widely acknowledged good practice in this area. It also provides a means of recourse if they feel their will drafter is not adhering to the principles set out in the Will Code. This complaints process should not conflict with any obligations or processes under other regulatory bodies. In pursuing any complaints, STEP will always work cooperatively with other professional bodies and regulators when appropriate.
Nothing in the Will Code should detract from a STEP member’s duty to their client under general law or statutory regulation.
Why are professional standards important?
A key element for any professional association is the creation and enforcement of professional standards. STEP’s professional standards make clear the role of our members in upholding the reputation of both STEP and the wider field of trust and estate practice.
Defined professional standards also provide the public with a clear understanding of what to expect from a STEP member. Additionally, they provide members of the public with recourse to lodge a complaint with STEP if they believe their practitioner is not acting in accordance with these standards.
STEP members have a vision of the future in which the Society is a ‘gold standard’ professional body in its own right, with the TEP hallmark recognised and valued by both the public and fellow professionals. To achieve this, we need to be sure that STEP’s own professional codes are fully up to scratch; the Will Code is one set of principles that will help us reach this ‘gold standard’.
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