The four leading will-writing brands are beginning to take “a noticeable market share”, new research has suggested.
It also found that, for the first time, a majority of probate matters are handled on a fixed-fee basis.
The Wills & Probate Consumer Research Report 2020  from IRN Research, which included a survey of 1,208 adults, estimated that the top four volume players – Co-operative Legal Services, Which? Legal, Irwin Mitchell and Slater & Gordon – have a combined share of the will-writing market of between 15% and 18%.
“This is expected to increase,” IRN said. “For the first time, there are signs that the leading brands can begin take a noticeable market share of this fragmented market.”
It also found that consumers were interested in other non-legal brands that sold will-writing services either directly or through white-label services, especially financial services companies. The leading brand of interest to consumers was Barclays.
Further, “start-up companies, with innovative IT solutions, are creating some market disruption”, while new competition was also coming from other non-solicitors, especially in probate and estate administration, such as accountants, licensed conveyancers and chartered legal executives.
Nonetheless, solicitors have three times the market share of will-writers; some 12% of consumers wrote their own wills.
However, the findings suggested that significant numbers of adults would be interested in writing their own wills, and using online-only will writing services, in part because they saw solicitors as the most expensive option. “Whether these intentions turn into reality remains to be seen.”
Consumers were also open to an unbundled approach where they took more of a role before handing it over to a professional.
A large number of consumers were unaware that will-writing was unregulated, and IRN said “this confusion is likely to be compromising consumer choice”.
At the same time, satisfaction levels with law firms and solicitors were “relatively high”, as was client loyalty also high, “so it seems they will remain as the preferred choice for advice”.
Though a limited number of those who took professional advice on their wills went on to buy related services, IRN said “the increased ageing of the population and a significant increase in dementia and other illnesses affecting mental capacity should drive demand for more services such as advice on lasting powers of attorney and care plans”.
While fixed fees have long dominated will writing, researchers said that for the first time they accounted for the majority of probate matters too, “as competition increases price pressures”.