These previous cases are extreme but other retiring Willwriters have found that their business is not the pot of gold they thought it might have been. What should Willwriters always remember?
1) Remember that your business comes with on-going liabilities – indemnity insurance, management of clients and client files. Don’t give up the assets without ensuring that the future liabilities are taken care of.
2) Trade as a limited company. Yes the accountancy fees will be higher, but the limited liability will provide some protection against future claims against the company-and a limited company bank account can continue in the names of new directors/shareholders.
3) Don’t store original documents yourself. The market for your business will be limited to buyers who have suitable physical document storage facilities.
4) Don’t offer free updates to Wills. Nobody likes to work for nothing and a business that is laden with such a burden is worse than valueless to anyone who might want to take it over.
5) Solicitors are ‘in the market’ to buy Willwriting firms. Their interest is not in the storage income, but in the potential probate business. However their interest wanes if the original documents are being stored with a provider of probate services. Don’t exclude potential buyers of your business by storing original client documents with a probate provider – even if the storage service that they provide is ‘free’.
6) Keep your clients close to you and keep a track of where they move to, by writing and/or emailing them regularly. In the short term, this will generate more work for you. In the longer term, a buyer is only going to value clients who can be contacted. Uncontactable clients will be a liability, I have seen adverts for Willwriting businesses for sale which say ‘large potential for additional work such as LPA’s, trusts etc’/ This sends out the message tto buyers that the clients of the business haven’t been cared for and there could be a lot of work for little money as many clients will be uncontactable and the others will be very disconnected from the business and may have written new Wills elsewhere.
7) Ensure payments for document storage are made by direct debit so that ongoing payments can be direct into any bank account, particularly the bank account of a successor business. When payments are made by direct debit, they can be increased over time. We have been fortunate that for the past decade or so, we have experienced low inflation and there hasn’t been a lot of pressure to increase fees paid by clients. But some Willwriters are being paid negligible fees (£5pa) on standing order by clients who have had documents in storage since the early 1990’s because it’s too much hassle to set up a new standing order for a new fee and the risk of cancellations is not attractive either.
8) Ensure that you have processes and people in place to deal with client requests (updates, return of Wills) in the event that you cannot deal with this – not only due to illness or death, but also during periods of absence due to holidays.
9) Don’t take on estate administration cases personally. Probate can, and should, be obtained in the names of the executor(s).
10) Plan early. Even if it means that you don’t maximise your income while you are working, releasing your loved ones from the stress, costs and burden created by your failure to plan is a small price to pay.