Back to News

Beware of cheap wills – they could cost you dearly

Have you or a relative been offered a great deal on a will … perhaps it was even free? If so, you might want to check the small print.

A recent article in the Mail has uncovered cases where families have been charged as much as £32,000 by banks for administering their relative’s estate.

During the 1990’s and early 2000’s, many of the major banks offered cheap or often free wills to customers, in return for their loyalty. Employees were also offered them for free. In the small print, the banks reserved the right to act as executor. However, it was only when it came to administering the estates that the scale of their charges came to light.

When a former HSBC employee died, his family were horrified to find that the bank proposed to charge them £14,000 to administer what was a straightforward estate. The house was in both names and the couples savings were in a joint bank account. When challenged about the scale of their charges, HSBC reduced the fee to around £6,000.

NatWest even added a £1,500 administration fee on top of their 2.5% fee for wrapping up one customer’s £220,000 estate, leaving the family facing a bill of £7,000 plus VAT.

Perhaps the most alarming case was one where Lloyds presented a family with a £32,000 bill for acting as executor. In the small print, the bank had reserved the right to charge 4% on the first £500,000 of the £1m estate, and 3% on the next £500,000. When the will was challenged by the family, the bank refused to help as they said its fee did not include the cost of legal advice in the event of a dispute. The family had to appoint their own solicitor to challenge the will.

Katy Burgin, wills and probate specialist at Atherton Godfrey, advises: “If you find that your will, wherever it was drafted, includes clauses that you are unhappy with, you are perfectly entitled to have it changed. Indeed, wills should be reviewed regularly, particularly where circumstances change. If a bank is named as your executor and you want to change it to someone else, you can ask the bank to stand down; however they may charge a fee. It may be more cost effective to just have a new will drawn up that reflects your current circumstances and includes a line that it revokes all previous versions”.

If you or a family member has already been charged excessive fees by a bank, firstly contact the bank and explain why you feel the fees were unfair. If you do not get a satisfactory response, you can contact the Financial Ombudsman Service. Even if your relative died a while ago, you may still be able to claim. Generally, you must make your complaint within 6 years of the charges, or within 3 years of the time you became aware that you could complain. For more information visit – http://financial-ombudsman.org.uk

Author: Gail Harris