Since the Legal Service Act 2007 came into force on 30th October 2007, the provision of legal services is no longer the prerogative of lawyers. It has been dubbed ‘Tesco Law’ for opening up the provision of legal services from potential organisations such as supermarkets.
But only since September 2014, was approval granted by the Legal Services Board for chartered accountants (regulated by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales) to provide probate services.
About 100 firms have taken up the offer.
The Legal Ombudsman have recently issued guidance to accountants on what it means to be offer such services and the responsibility that comes with the new opportunities. This was reported on by the Law Gazette.
I can see that the provision of financial/tax services can go hand in hand with some probate services, especially the preparation of estate accounts and tax planning. But these are not the only roles of a probate legal advisor and accountants would be wise to head the pitfalls before readily signing up for the full array of probate services.
Contentious probate claims are on the rise; whether this be due to economic prosperity so assets are worth more, people being more educated about the ability to bring claims, or the growing complexity of familial relationships. They can be lengthily, costly and bitter if trawled through the courts.
The High Court statistics in 2013 shows that there was 368 cases issued for breaches of fiduciary duty (up from 107 in 2012). These cover claims against executors/trustees for failing to properly administer estates and/or trustees, and firms are regularly appointed as executors and/or trustees.
There is also the constant threat of a professional negligence claim by disgruntled (potential) beneficiaries even though they are not technically the client (see the case of White v Jones (1995) UKHL 5.
The problems with low costs wills was reported in the telegraph recently. Added to that are the potential unrecoverable costs of providing a Lark v Nugus Statement to defend any Will you have drafted.