Expats may find will-writing; administering estates; trusts and probate will become harder to manage as British legal regulators only want to see qualified lawyers carrying out the work.
The Legal Services Board has recommended to the Lord Chancellor that the services are restricted to barristers, solicitors or legal executives.
This will stop independent financial advisers, banks and financial institutions offering will services and inheritance tax advice (IHT).
The move comes after a review of the estate planning market and will protect consumers from poor information from unqualified advisers, says the board.
However, if the proposal wins support from the government, thousands of expats could be left high and dry for advice over wills and trusts.
Domicile and residency
Estate planning for expats is complicated by domicile and residency rules.
Although tax is determined by residency, wills and inheritance matters for someone born Britain are often decided alongside domicile – which tends to be the country of birth or their father’s birth, and unlike residency, domicile is difficult to change.
The Office of Fair Trading has already criticised banks and other financial institutions for offering poor quality estate planning advice – and for charging fees that do not reflect the work involved.
LSB chair David Edmonds said: “Lives can be seriously damaged by incompetence or misdemeanour in drafting a will or administering an estate. This will be the first recommendation by the board to bring new legal activities within the regulatory scope of the 2007 act. It is not a step we take lightly. It will be targeted and proportionate.
“This is about achieving better regulation – to support innovation and competition; to deliver consistent consumer protection; and ultimately to improve consumer confidence to choose and use legal services.”
Unregulated advice risks
Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff approves the proposals.
“We are pleased that the LSB shares our concerns regarding consumer protection in this area. We urge the LSB and government to proceed swiftly to ensure that in will-writing, estate administration and probate, consumers are protected from bad advice and untrained providers,” she said.
The Law Society has run a long campaign pointing out the dangers of will writing and estate planning by unregulated advisers.
“Without regulation, there is not enough protection for consumers from poor-quality advice, or in the worst cases unscrupulous advisors – with a real risk of painful and expensive consequences,” she said.