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Probate News 17 - August 2021

This issue contains two new consultations relating to changes to the Probate Regulations and requesting feedback on ICAEW’s reserved legal services strategy. It also contains an update from HMCTS on improvements to its online portal and information about transparency next steps.

Changes to the Probate Regulations consultation

To develop and advance ICAEW’s consumer engagement strategy and to address the concerns and recommendations outlined in the CMA’s 2016 report, ICAEW opted for a voluntary approach to improving the provision of price and service information to consumers.

To date, the uptake of the voluntary guidance has been disappointing. At its meeting in June 2021, the IRB considered the final assessment of ICAEW firms’ take up. It noted that whilst the results showed some improvements, they were still some way short of acceptable. Consequently, it recommended mandating transparency measures through the introduction of regulation.

ICAEW Regulatory Board Legal Services Strategy

The ICAEW Regulatory Board (IRB) recently refreshed its medium term reserved legal services (RLS) strategy and operational priorities.

The IRB is now consulting on its proposed RLS strategy. The consultation will run for six weeks until 20 September 2021.

Transparency and digital comparison tools

Elsewhere in this edition of Probate News we have drawn attention to the proposed changes to the probate regulations to mandate service and price transparency. This step marks the final phase of the plan we set out in 2018 to address the recommendations of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in 2016 aimed at improving competition in the legal services market.

Last December the CMA published an updated report that indicated there had been some progress in developing the market but that there remained a lot to be done. Areas they put forward in their recommendations included the reporting of quality indicators, review websites and digital comparison tools (DCTs). The Legal Services Board (LSB) was also charged with leading the implementation of these recommendations and in April this year the LSB consulted on some of the issues associated with taking these recommendations forward. Last week the LSB published the summary of the responses, including those put forward by ICAEW, and that paper indicates they will be looking to develop requirements later this year.

Although we provided some guidance on the use of comparison websites and DCTs in our Best Practice Guide, we did not major on it. This was partly due to concerns around the integrity and reputation of those sites at that time. Since then the industry has matured and some assurance systems are starting to be built into them to give them a greater degree of reliability. A pilot that is currently underway between three of the regulatory bodies, focused on conveyancing and employment law, is finding that there is value add to be gained for firms in leveraging this media, partly in working directly with the DCTs and comparison sites themselves. We understand that probate will be next on their list of trials and ICAEW have been invited to be part of that. Firms already taking part in the pilot have moved from a stance of scepticism to enthusiasm so there in clearly some useful benefit involved.

At this point we can merely say that more requirements will be coming down the line as the LSB determines what should be in place. But this is not just red tape for the sake of it. It is an important message to our firms to think more widely how they market themselves, and to start now in thinking about how they may best leverage the new tools available through new media. Any firms or practitioners who would like to part of any pilot we may ourselves engage in are welcome to get in touch. Please do so by emailing steph.patterson@icaew.com.

Update from HMCTS

Improvements to MyHMCTS for probate practitioners

The digital service for probate practitioners on MyHMCTS has granted over 60,000 applications since 2019. Moving applications for probate online meant that we were able to continue granting applications during the pandemic.

In the past year, probate practitioners have continued to give HMCTS feedback on how they can improve the service. The following improvements to the service will be effective from 19 August 2021.

  • Trust Corporations will be able to apply for a Grant of Probate using MyHMCTS
  • New prompts will clearly identify the title of the executor, including partners, members, shareholders and directors in a firm or successor firm.
  • Other prompts provide clearer options to account for executors that are not applying for probate, reducing the potential for cases to be stopped.
  • All parts of an application can now be amended before submission, including the probate practitioners’ details.
  • Applications where only a notarial copy or a court sealed copy of the will is available can now be made through MyHMCTS.
  • Improved title and clearing wording on the legal statement.
  • The legal statement itself can now be signed, including with a digital signature, by a practitioner on behalf of their client and any of the applying executors.
  • The legal statement can be uploaded to their application through their MyHMCTS dashboard or sent by post.
  • The legal statement will automatically contain the names of the applying executors and practitioner.
  • The requirement to send a death certificate of any pre-deceased executors has ended
  • A system error that led to practitioner details being overwritten in the application has.

Important next steps and guidance

In order to prepare for these changes, HMCTS is encouraging users to check their MyHMCTS dashboard and either submit cases or read the guidance on deleting unsubmitted cases for those that are no longer valid.

Any applications that are not submitted, or are unable to be submitted, before the change on 19 August will not be able to progress and a new application will need to be created.

If you are unable to fully submit your application to HMCTS before 19 August, you should wait for the change to go live before starting your probate application on MyHMCTS.

Sharing feedback

HMCTS are always keen to hear from practitioners and welcome feedback on the improvements we are making to the service. Please write to probatefeedback@justice.gov.uk to share your thoughts on the changes, suggest further areas for enhancement or notify us of technical issues. If contacting us with a technical issue please provide screen shots when possible.

For issues relating to a specific probate application, please contact contactprobate@justice.gov.uk directly to avoid any delay in resolving your enquiry.

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