Becoming Probate Certified
Have you ever thought about offering probate? Adrian Metson reviews his journey to becoming certified sharing all the useful information he learned in the process.
I run a small accountancy practice (1 partner, 1 full time and 1 part time employee) and decided in February 2020 to offer Probate services. I will explain the process and provide further information for when you have passed the exam.
An ICAEW firm can offer probate services following completion of additional exams.
The study and examination is offer by Mercia. The course is called ‘Certificate in Probate and Estate Administration’ the cost of the study (2 days) is £660 and the exam £180.
Mercia has a venue in London but is currently running online live learning and online assessments due to Covid. The online assessments are more difficult than a traditional exam because if your wi-fi connection fails you have to re-sit the exam and you cannot see the whole exam paper in front of you. Instead, you look at one question at a time. The pass mark for the exam is 50% and I achieved 60%.
The exam was taken in August 2020 and I was notified 6 weeks later that I had passed. I found information on how to move forward from this point not so available so hopefully this will help.
After the Exam
Firstly, you have to apply to the ICAEW to offer probate services (application fee and annual fee approximately £1,000 for my firm). Only when you have been accepted by the ICAEW can you legally offer these services. The forms are quite complicated and numerous. If you have a shareholder/partner who are not an ICAEW member, have they have to be approved by the ICAEW. You will also need to obtain a DBS check which the ICAEW source. I had to wait about 4-6 weeks for this to be processed. You then need to update your stationery and email signatures/website with certain wording (provided by the ICAEW). Then you must notify your PI insurer you are offering probate. It is a requirement that you hold a minimum of £500,000 cover.
At this point you can offer probate services to your client.
There is still a lot do. I decided to set up a new website to cover this service and then linked it back to my accountancy website. This is because I see it as a separate service. It also helps with marketing.
I produced new marketing materials in the form of A6 flyers and contacted existing clients and previous clients (respecting GDPR rules). A new office sign was made and a leaflet drop of the local area is being planned to raise awareness of our new service.
Referral networks are being formed with local estate agents (who provide probate valuations) and in the future I will approach local Funeral Directors.
I was lucky that I secured 3 probate clients in January 2021 but this clashed with my busy time for the self-assessment deadline. I was able to delay working on these until February.
Once approved for Probate, I would recommend applying for the HM Court Service account to submit probate applications straight away as the process is very slow – it has taken about 8 weeks so far.
It might be wise to find a mentor or paid technical consultant who can support you. Mercia also offers a Probate Compliance Manual which offer many templates and letters of engagement. This costs £355 per year.
My final thoughts are a new revenue stream is very welcome when there may be a drop in income from accounts work due to the state of the economy. It also means you are competing against legal professionals rather than unqualified accountants, resulting in higher hourly rates. I am pleased that I have taken this decision but it is early days for me. I hope in a few years that probate work might account for 20%-50% of my total income.
South East London Area Society Committee Member