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Ward Williams: Client choice

Offering different levels of service is helping Ward Williams build its probate work.

Ward Williams is a six-partner practice that took advantage of the potential to provide probate services as soon as ICAEW became an approved licensing authority.

‘While we couldn’t offer probate before, we had helped clients navigate the process and knew the procedures involved,‘ says partner Malcolm McKinnell.

Accountants have an advantage over other probate practitioners as they have long client relationships. ‘When family members come to us a few weeks after a death, they talk to someone they know,‘ says McKinnell. 'We have much of the financial and historical information on our files. This takes away a lot of the workload from the family at a time of stress.‘

Ward Williams decided to offer three probate packages.

The first is one in which the executors apply for probate by themselves, with the firm available to answer any questions or review the forms as required. ’This is usually taken up when there is a professional in the family who is happy to do most of the work but who wants an expert to be available to answer any technical questions,‘ says McKinnell.

In the second package the family members do much of the information gathering and cash distribution, while Ward Williams prepares the tax returns, probate application and estate accounts.

And in the third package the firm does everything. ‘Clients appreciate the flexibility,‘ says McKinnell.

Recently Ward Williams has produced a handbook on probate and estate administration, which it has sent to all its clients.

Soon the firm will be included as the preferred probate practitioner in brochures that three local hospital trusts hand out to the bereaved: up to 30,000 of these brochures are distributed each year.

‘Making people aware that accountants can and do offer probate can be the hardest part,‘ says McKinnell. ‘Changing the public’s mindset and perception is important. That’s why we’re happy to be in the NHS Trust brochures and we try to keep the momentum up with local marketing and articles in local magazines.‘

His advice for other practices is to market to the existing client base first. ‘Get something out to all your clients. Many people don’t know what probate is so use education as a way of soft marketing. It’s a lot easier to market to your existing clients – and it makes good sense for them to come to you.‘