Expert Discusses Innovations Helping Sector

Now that the world is social distancing, Wills and probate businesses are becoming increasingly reliant on the innovative technologies enabling the sector to continue working despite being unable to meet clients in person.

Last year, Estatesearch were awarded the Innovation of the Year in the British Wills and Probate Awards for greatly improving the customer journey and helping to take the area of Wills and Probate forward.

The judges commented that Estatesearch offered ‘a robust due diligence process at the click of a button, helping practitioners discover all hidden assets and liabilities. A simple and efficient process which creates positive outcomes for their customers.’

Now, a plethora of legal suppliers have been able to highlight the ways they can help prop up a Wills sector inundated with increased enquiries. The Estatesearch team have taken the time to discuss the importance of industry awards, the innovations in the sector in the time before Covid-19 and how technology companies are helping in times of self-isolation.

Why has the award victory been important for Estatesearch this year?

Having started with our vision of how technology could help drive improvements in estate administration, through collaboratively creating products and services with clients sharing our values our journey has been hugely rewarding. But recognition from such a knowledgeable and experienced judging panel was hugely motivational for the entire team, knowing that our core values for technology to drive better client service in estate administration is widely shared throughout all levels of the profession. For our work to be singled out among such incredibly strong competition was also extremely humbling, but more importantly, has already led to discussions with other innovative companies about future collaboration.

What innovations were you seeing prior to Covid-19?

Throughout 2019 we were observing a greater awareness and dissatisfaction among the profession in respect of difficulties often experienced when dealing with financial institutions. A key part of our work has been to try and raise awareness of issues in the private client professional and improve engagement between legal and financial sectors, exploring innovative technology solutions to bring mutual benefit for all.

A leading theme for many has long been realising greater efficiency, increasingly driven by growing competition in the probate and estate administration sector. Over the past 12 months Estatesearch have been integrating additional services into our existing products and platforms to give practitioners simple and efficient access to multiple services. Reducing administrative effort for greater efficiency and thereby also reducing the risk of mis-keying data or omitting/delaying searches.

Rising client expectations have also been driving requirements for solutions to help deliver greater customer satisfaction. A common issue for Professional Executors has seemed to be pressure from beneficiaries to pay legacies as early as possible, an issue exacerbated last year by delays in the probate creating a longer lag time before the Inheritance Act claims period began. In response we observed a dramatic increase in the uptake of Early Distribution insurance to indemnify the Executor and Beneficiary against claims by unknown dependants and for a cost effective premium. Allowing the Professional Executor to offer a safe alternative to waiting 6 to 10 months, and saw feedback from happy beneficiaries.

UK society has changed a lot in a short space of time. What innovations are you seeing in the last month, helping practitioners in the current climate?

The last four weeks have presented significant challenges for everyone across the sector, perhaps the most noticeable change has been the huge uptake of video calls and the innovative application in holding meetings, maintaining contact with vulnerable clients, mental capacity assessments, supporting networking, online conferences and seminars, and of course the occasional ‘pub quiz’.

Of course there has also been noticeable innovation in the area of Will execution, the most novel approach I’ve encountered included the use of luckily discovered ladder to witness through a top floor window. Adaptability to be applauded but perhaps, in need of a health and safety review!

The most significant change in working approach we’ve observed has been a significant increase in the undertaking of ‘remote’ estate due diligence. The current restrictions are limiting access to property and personal papers making identifying estate accounts more challenging. Similarly, attending property can place you, your colleagues or your clients at risk and may be inadvisable. A comprehensive asset and liability search, such as the Estatesearch Financial Profile Service is an effective way to remotely gather financial information in respect of an estate by sourcing data from electronic databases and directly notifying banks, building societies, share registrars, pension providers and insurers all helping minimise reliance on paper records.

Current restrictions are also having a significant impact on conveyancing and the property market. However, firms are adapting and increasingly looking at desktop valuations or alternatives sales strategies such as online auctions. Insurance services are also increasingly being used in innovative ways to help achieve good client outcomes. I’ve already mentioned Early Distribution insurance which in a recent matter we handled was used to help the beneficiaries of an estate, who had recently encountered financial difficulties as a result of the current pandemic, realise their legacy sooner. Early Distribution policies can also be extended to cover additional risks such as Testamentary Capacity Challenges and Proprietary Estoppel, which may deserve consideration by professionals and the clients they’re advising given the anticipated increase in contentious issues and challenges as a result of the current adaptations required to execute a Will.

While current events are undoubtedly impacting every one of us, the opportunities that current events are creating for the legal sector to innovate and adapt shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s my hope that practitioners and firms willing to explore, and embrace, alternative approaches should realise longer term benefits.

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