Probate is the legal process by which an individual’s estate is administered. More accurately, the process involves establishing whether the individual had a valid will, determining the beneficiaries under the Will or intestacy, collecting the assets of the individual, settling debts including inheritance tax, completing the government paperwork and then distributing the assets to those beneficiaries who have an entitlement.
For many years, Probate and Estate Administration has been a reserved legal service, meaning that only qualified lawyers and those regulated under the law society could provide the service on a commercial basis. Accountants and tax advisers have always been involved, assisting with the administration and accounting elements, plus dealing with tax issues such as inheritance tax returns and income earning during the period of administration. However changes to the rules only recently means that accountants regulated by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) can now provide a complete service in this area. In order to do so, individuals must undertake specific training and pass a further professional exam.
Nick Tagg, Director of Wisteria and Head of Legal Practice for the firm explained, “I am so pleased to confirm that Wisteria are now able to offer a complete probate service, without the need to work with a lawyer in most cases. This will offer our clients the option of keeping all of the services they need in one place, as well as extending access to legal services to the local community. Competitive pricing also means that executors will be able to reduce costs at a time which can be both emotionally and financially difficult for families.”
The requirements imposed on firms of Chartered Accountants are also strictly monitored, such as increasing the level of professional indemnity insurance in some cases, instigating new training and development procedures for staff, as well as restricting the work so that it can only be completed by qualified individuals.
Probate also suffers from a reputation of being very expensive, with some banks charging 3-4% of the estate and many lawyers charging 1% plus hourly rates. In many cases, this can lead to professional fees in excess of £10,000. Opening the market will no doubt lead to a more competitive pricing environment, breaking down barriers to entry which have in the past kept the service as a closed shop.
As a result, many individuals attempt to deal with probate and intestacy issues themselves. The area is a complex one and this can often result in significant issues which result in estates running on for months and years.
For more information on Wisteria’s probate service can be found on their website, www.wisteria.co.uk
Wisteria are a firm of Chartered Accountants, Tax and Business Advisers based in London