17 October 1995
If correctly marketed, the Law Society's annual 'Make a Will Week' could provide many solicitors with instructions for the preparation of wills from existing clients and from new clients.
While it is more difficult for the promotional week to have any impact on those few City firms which still prepare wills or on other large London firms, it provides an ideal opportunity for high street firms and provincial practices to market their will-making services and to receive instructions as a result.
Preparing a will for a client can lead to other business. It is likely that estate planning advice might also be required and this could lead to work establishing a trust or to conveyancing work if, for example, the client decides to make a lifetime transfer of property.
Also, in the long term it is possible that a solicitor who prepares a will might be asked to act in the administration of the testator's estate.
Preparing a will for an existing client also helps keep the solicitor in contact with their client and cements the existing relationship.
It is also self-evident that, if a new client instructs a solicitor to prepare a will and is pleased with the service received, he or she will return to the solicitor for other legal advice.
That client will almost certainly recommend the solicitor to others too.
So, the preparation of a will, although it might not in itself generate a large fee, can be an ideal business development opportunity.
It is one of the few areas of legal work where a solicitor can obtain work from a client which the client has not previously considered that he or she needs. Nobody asks a solicitor to do conveyancing work unless they want to move house or to transfer a property. No one will ask you to undertake litigation unless they are involved in a dispute.
However, if you (or the Law Society's campaign) make people realise they should have a will, they are likely to ask you to prepare one.
It is here that the success of the campaign rests. Few individuals will be motivated to make wills because they hear on the radio that they should do so. The potential testator will only make will if they see the benefit in doing so.
In order to convey to the general public that making a will is a sensible idea, it is essential that the consequences of not having a will are explained.
The rules for the distribution of estates on intestacy must be spelt out unequivocally. The 'Make a Will Week' campaign will only succeed in getting the message across to the public if it focuses on the problems encountered when no will exists.
To explain to a married couple that on the death of one of them the survivor will not necessarily take the entire estate will be far more likely to motivate them to make wills than any simple suggestion that it would be good for them to have wills. If a childless spouse realised that a brother or sister who is not much liked will take part of the estate on intestacy, this would certainly be an effective motivating factor.
I have often been instructed to make a will for someone who has just experienced the difficulties which arose on the death of a friend or relative intestate. Seeing problems first-hand was a far more effective motivating factor than exhortations in the press.
If the focus of the promotion is simply 'if you want to make a will you should see a solicitor', it will fail.
Solicitors hoping to benefit from the campaign should ensure they focus on the difficult situations which can be adopted for enquiries from clients or potential clients. Some examples of particular injustices would assist - hard cases may make bad law but they do get through to clients.