A code of conduct for will drafters


LawI spent four wonderful years at Queen’s University, where I majored in women’s studies and minored in English literature. After a year off teaching English in South Korea, I then went to law school at the University of Ottawa where I completed my law degree, articled at a full service firm (spending a large portion of my time doing civil and criminal litigation), and then began my legal career practicing real estate, wills and estates.

But wait, you may ask. Where is the formal training in real estate, wills and estates?

I learned my practice areas by taking courses in law school (that were not required), by pushing my way into the real estate and estates departments at the firm where I articled, and by spending my first six months of my legal career learning from my now partner, a lawyer with almost 40 years’ experience in these areas, while taking many additional courses in these practice areas. I have also practiced exclusively in these two areas for over five years now, and while I would not call myself an expert, I do now know a great deal about these practice areas and continue to educate myself about new developments.

In Ontario, there is no requirement that you obtain formal training to practice any particular area of law. If I felt like it, I could turn in my Teraview licence and start practicing personal injury law. I probably would be a very poor personal injury lawyer, but nothing would legally stop me from doing it. Just as nothing legally stops many lawyers from drafting wills when they do not do so regularly, and might not know the intricacies of estates law.

In the U.K., they are trying to do something about that. The Law Society of England and Wales has recently introduced a program called the Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme, where estates lawyers who specialize in will drafting and estate administration can receive an extra certification directly from the Law Society confirming that they have qualifications in these areas of the law. In order to be a part of the scheme, lawyers must be able to demonstrate a minimum standard in estates law. Consumers can then choose a lawyer based on whether they are a party of the scheme, knowing that their lawyer has that minimum knowledge and might be better qualified to draft their will.

This scheme launches officially in October, and it will be interesting to see whether it leads to more consumers using lawyers with specific knowledge of estates law.