STEP Will Code revision published

Alex Elphinston STEP’s Professional Standards Committee recently approved some revisions to the STEP Code for Will Preparation in England & Wales, which applies to all STEP members drafting wills in England & Wales.

Please find below a Q&A, which addresses the revisions and answers some common queries. If you have any questions about the Code please contact STEP’s Professional Standards Manager, Sarah Manuel on standards@step.org.

What is the point of the Code, and how does it benefit members and their clients?
The Code seeks to assist both the public and the STEP member by setting out a framework within which a will can be developed. By following the Code, you are able to demonstrate openness and transparency in the management of your client and they can be confident that you are following best practice. Following the Will Code also enables the public to identify that the person drafting their will is appropriately qualified and competent and abides by an ethical code.

What has changed in this revision?
The revisions are mainly typographical, with only one change of substance, which is to emphasise that members must make their clients aware of the existence of the Code and their adherence to it, and provide a copy of the Code to the client in an accessible format. We are flexible as to how members do this; whether by direction to the website (listed in the guide to the public) or by supplying a full copy to each client.

What feedback has STEP received from members about the Code?
Feedback from users has largely been positive with members finding the Code a helpful tool when drafting wills, although you would like greater public awareness of the Code’s existence. We will be looking into how we can achieve this over the coming months, but one easy way is for all full STEP members in England and Wales to display the Will Code logo.

Has STEP had any feedback from the public?
Much of STEP’s interaction with the public sadly comes when things have gone wrong between a member and their client and we receive a complaint. Recent complaints have highlighted issues around the lack of knowledge by both members and the public regarding the content of the Will Code. The complaints we have received have focused on the fees being levied, and the need for clear communications. In these cases, issues could have been avoided had the Code been followed by the members and had the clients been made aware of the Will Code’s existence. This is the key reason we have changed the guidance to ensure clients are aware of the Code.

Is there any information members can give to clients to explain what the Code is?
We have developed a Guide for the Public (PDF 110KB) that you can download from our website, which describes the standards that, as a STEP member, you will adhere to when drafting their will along with the considerations that they can expect you to have taken into account.

Who is eligible to use the Will Code logo and where can it be displayed?
The logo can be used by all TEPs in England and Wales; and Technicians, Affiliates and Students of STEP who have successfully completed the Advanced Certificate in Will Preparation. The logo can only be used by the individual STEP member and not by a firm as whole, nor should it be used in order to endorse a specific product. We have produced some Rules for use of the Will Code Logo (PDF 70KB), which provide helpful information to ensure you comply with our marketing guidelines.

What if there is a conflict between what the Code says and a member’s firm’s policies?
The Code has been deliberately designed to be a guide to best practice and therefore it is unlikely that a firm would not wish its members to follow the Code. The Code is a framework within which each STEP member can aim to best meet the needs of each individual client, while at the same time operating to appropriate standards. It does not set out a detailed and prescriptive procedure for will preparation. Ultimately the Code is designed to increase confidence and provide assurance to the public that their will drafter is appropriately qualified, will provide a good service and to make the process far less daunting than it may otherwise seem.

What if a complaint is raised against a member?
Where possible we would hope that any matters can be resolved locally without need for STEP to become involved. Sometimes this may not be possible and a client or member of the public may have cause to complain to us directly. When this happens we will consider the complaint under our usual Disciplinary Rules in order to determine whether a breach of one or more of our Codes of Conduct has occurred. We do understand that being notified of a complaint can be a stressful and upsetting experience and so early contact with the Professional Standards team is advisable.

Alex Elphinston TEP is Chair of STEP’s England and Wales Regional Committee

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