There are lots of ways to obtain legal advice – why use a solicitor? For your will: surely you can write it yourself; use an online service – ‘click here to make a will in minutes’; or use a will writer who stands in your local shopping centre? For powers of attorney: use the online service provided by the Office of the Public Guardian? Or for estate administration: use a large organisation offering legal services?
Yes, you could, but you need to be sure you are getting good value for your money. The estate planning you put in place now will have a huge impact on your family and getting those documents right is essential.
Here are ten reasons why you should use a solicitor:
- They know their stuff: It takes an average of 6 years to qualify as a solicitor. Once qualified, solicitors are admitted to the roll by the Law Society. You can’t call yourself a solicitor without this.
- They are specialists: Solicitors worth their salt tend to specialise and not be general practitioners. So, if you need a will, or a power of attorney, or some probate advice, speak to a solicitor specialist in this area – but equally that solicitor is unlikely to be able to help you with your house purchase.
- They are independently accredited: Generally, solicitors undertake further exams in the area in which they specialise and follow their code of practice. I am accredited by Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) and the Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners (STEP).
- Keeping up to date: Solicitors are required to complete annual training – whether that’s update courses, reading journals or being part of a community of experts within their field. You can be safe in the knowledge that the advice solicitors give is up to date and relevant.
- Experience: Understanding fairly complex legal forms and wading through legal guidance can be daunting. Solicitors have the experience to advise clients (old and young, or their families, or carers) in a straightforward and compassionate way respecting their needs, family situations and wishes.
- Speaking a language you understand: Solicitors provide clear and practical advice in a friendly and approachable way – no jargon!
- Understanding the bigger picture: Face to face meetings are important. Solicitors understand that family life can be complicated and will advise you around those sensitive issues – second marriages, children from different relationships, breakups or health problems (to name a few), all of these things need to be considered and planned for. This cannot be dealt with adequately by an online service or using an adviser the other side of the country.
- Tax breaks: Unless you take the right advice, your estate could miss out on important inheritance tax reliefs. Often these are not automatic and must be claimed within a certain timeframe. Before death, ensure your planning maximises those reliefs (e.g. if you own a trading business this could pass 100% tax free on death, so you might not want to sell it!). After death, it is important to know how to claim all the tax reliefs available. If you write your own will or deal with a relative’s estate administration yourself, this could mean that you miss out on vital tax perks.
- Regulation and protection: For the reasons above, solicitors know they will give you the right advice but, if things did go wrong, you are protected both by the firm’s complaints procedure, and then, ultimately, by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Legal Ombudsmen if you need take matters further. Lastly, Solicitors have professional indemnity insurance to provide any compensation. Is this the case for other legal services providers?
- Cost effective: Finally, whilst you can certainly obtain cheaper legal advice, for all the reasons listed above, speaking to a solicitor is good value for money that will ensure that you obtain the best legal advice, tailored to yours and your family’s needs.