Will-writing boss warns of battle between regulated and unregulated firms

Garrett: Being unregulated does not equate to taking unnecessary risks

The chief executive of leading online will-writer Farewill has warned that “there will definitely be conflict between regulated and unregulated providers” over the future of the industry.

Dan Garrett said it was “understandably frustrating for regulated firms that they can’t deliver what the consumer is asking for”.

He went on: “The interesting thing at the heart of this is that consumer appetite is now moving quickly and aggressively to online legal services, which don’t really work in a regulated environment.

“We’re taking the right measures to minimise customer risk while building a service the customer really wants. If you look at the rates of intestacy, we are in a crisis situation.”

Farewill, which only launched in 2017, claims to write around 5% of wills in the UK and aims to hit 10% by the end of 2020.

We reported last month that Cancer Research UK, the biggest recipient of legacies in the country, has launched a free online will service with Farewill, and Mr Garrett said it worked with a large number of other charities, including Macmillan, Save the Children and the Royal British Legion, and had raised over £140m in donations pledged in wills.

Mr Garrett said that since Legal Futures published the article about the partnership with Cancer Research, there had been lots of web chatter “critical of the way we do things and critical of Cancer Research”.

He said he was “not happy that Cancer Research is getting the flack” for doing what consumers wanted it to do.

“The legal industry is so regulated and there are so many rules to comply with, I am not surprised that it when comes up against disruption, people are not happy.

“Being unregulated does not equate to taking unnecessary risks with our customers. We’ve complied with every regulation that applies to us. A lot of the criticisms made about us are quite unjustified.”

Mr Garrett said the big regulated law firms used paralegals to write wills, but, unlike Farewill, also used paralegals to edit them.

In contrast, he said Farewill’s wills were “algorithmically drafted” by a STEP-qualified solicitor in the form of Lorraine Robinson, head of legal at Farewill, and could only be edited by clients and not by its team of will-checkers.

“That is far safer than the way a lot of regulated firms do it.”

Mr Garrett said Farewill employed around 40 staff at its offices in London, 15 of them working on a new probate service launched in March this year.

He said the cost for obtaining probate was £595 including VAT plus the probate registration fee of £155, which was “less than half” the fees charged by solicitors.

Mr Garrett said two solicitors had been recruited to work in the probate team, which aimed to process 100 cases a month by the end of the year. By this time, Mr Garrett said he expected the team to have expanded to 20, and his total staff to around 55.

He said that having raised £7.5m in funding early this year to invest in staff and technology, there was no need to raise more until next year at the earliest.

“Things have gone well for us, but there are still a huge number of unprotected families in the UK.

“When you speak to people about wills or death, they have a Victorian picture in their mind of a man in a top hat, which prevents them from dealing with it.

“They should be shopping around in the death industry, just like any other.”

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