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Probate News 12 - March 2020

This issue includes an update on online applications from HMCTS, new forms to replace the Statement of Truth and information on the best ways to contact us during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Probate Automation

As part of HMCTS’ digital drive it has extended online probate applications to legal professionals not just personal applicants. Particularly under the current circumstances, HMCTS would like to strongly encourage practitioners to register to make online applications.

There are a few steps to take before you can make applications online. These are:

  • Register to use the service and
  • Apply for a Pay By Account (PBA) to allow you to use the HMCTS Fee Account System to pay for each application.

If you have any problems registering or using the system you can call 0300 303 0648 or email probatefeedback@justice.gov.uk.

Using the online service should make the process easier for you, as it means you can:

  • Manage your account on the system;
  • Submit applications when it suits you, safe in the knowledge they will be uploaded then and there;
  • View all your probate applications on a single dashboard; and
  • Monitor the stages of each application online.

Going online will certainly help you and it can also help you to keep your clients updated on the process.

New Grant of Representation Application Forms

HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has launched new standard application forms for professional practitioners:

  • PA1A (applying for grant of letters of administration)
  • PA1P (applying for a grant of probate)
  • PA8A (applying for a caveat)

These forms would need to be completed in place of the Statement of Truth and lodged at the Probate Registries as usual. After a period, these forms will be sent to the Courts and Tribunal Service Centres. HMCTS will inform you of the change of address in due course.

There will be a transition period of 4 weeks, during which Probate Registries will be permitted to accept any old-style Statements of Truth that come through.

After 20th April 2020 any Statements of Truth that are received will be returned, with a request to replace them with the appropriate new form.

Alternatively, HMCTS strongly recommend you consider completing your probate applications online. This will enable them to be accessed remotely while staff may be working from home: Find out more.

If you would like further information or have any further feedback on the forms, please email probatefeedback@justice.gov.uk.

Price and Service Transparency Reminder

We are shortly due to review the implementation of our Guide to Price and Service Transparency to assess how successful voluntary take up of the guidance has been. If the Legal Services Board considers the uptake insufficient, they may request we develop this Guide into a set of compulsory regulations.

We encourage your firm to adopt the recommendations in the Guide. We believe that going further than obligations dictated by the ICAEW Code of Ethics and adopting the recommendations in the Guide will not only benefit the consumer, but also have the potential to greatly benefit firms as they will demonstrate the integrity and attractiveness of your firm to clients.

  • Potential clients will be encouraged to compare the transparency and quality of information given by firms. Firms that adopt the transparency requirements will have a commercial advantage over those that don’t.
  • First tier complaints from clients caused by lack of information on pricing and services at the outset of the engagement can be avoided. It could also reduce the number and cost of cases referred to the Legal Ombudsman.
  • Transparency of pricing will highlight the lower costs a multi-disciplinary firm can offer its clients.
  • It will support and encourage a culture change regarding how transparency is viewed.

Eligibility issues - a reminder

The most frequent issue reported to the Probate Committee relates to eligibility. This arises mainly when firms make changes to their structures and / or appoint new principals which can affect their eligibility to be registered but forget to notify ICAEW of the change.

A probate affiliate or the accredited probate firm’s contact partner must inform ICAEW in writing within 10 business days of any changes relevant to matters considered by ICAEW under Regulation 8.3.

Authorised firms must ensure:

  • all principals and / or shareholders are authorised to conduct probate work; and
  • non-authorised persons do not control 10% or more of the voting rights of the company / LLP / other body.

Licensed firms must:

  • appoint a Head of Finance and Administration (HoFA) and/or a Head of Legal Practice (HoLP);
  • ensure principals hold affiliate status if they are not an accredited probate firm, a registered auditor, a DPB (Investment Business) licensed firm, an ICAEW member, ICAS member, CAI member or member of another approved regulator.
  • ensure only principals and employees of a firm are authorised individuals. ICAEW can’t licence sub-contractors or consultants.

If your firm is considering the appointment of a new principal, incorporating the firm, or changing the structure and or ownership of the firm, it could have an impact on eligibility. Please discuss the implications of any intended changes with our regulatory support team by emailing regulatorysupport@icaew.com.

Accountancy firms taking greater market share of probate

Recent research published by IRN is showing that, for the first time the majority of probate matters are handled on a fixed fee basis, and that accountancy firms as well as Licensed Conveyers and Legal Executives are taking an increasing market share of probate services that previously was dominated by qualified solicitors. A similar trend is being seen on will writing where fixed fees and innovative service delivery is enabling the consumer to have a more rounded choice. The ICAEW March 2019 diversity monitoring survey showed that 272 firms with 9,000 employees were now engaged in the probate market.

The report is available (but would need to be purchased) here: Wills & Probate Consumer Research Report 2020.

COVID-19: Quality assurance monitoring and regulatory support

Latest changes to monitoring procedures and how we can help.

COVID-19: Professional conduct and investigation guidance

Expectations of firms / members and our proportionate approach.

Regulating in the public interest

The ICAEW Regulatory Board (IRB) has published its 2019 annual report. Public interest and transparency remain at the forefront of everything the IRB does. 

Professional Indemnity Insurance Committee is recruiting

The Committee is looking for non-lay members with technical knowledge of PII or risk management experience.

PII - mind the gap 

Our latest advice on PII and the importance of making sure there are no gaps in your PII cover.

Helplines and support 

During the Coronavirus outbreak and while ICAEW offices are closed, we have put together a summary of the best ways to contact us. In particular, please ensure all correspondence is emailed until further notice, as the distribution of postal correspondence may be significantly delayed.

Coronavirus Hub

ICAEW is collating resources to offer support and information to members and firms as conditions unfold.

COVID-19: support for businesses

Increased support includes unlimited loans and guarantees to help manage staff wages and cashflow during the pandemic.