Expert Updates On New Online Probate Service Pilot

Ian Bond, Chair of The Law Society’s ‘Wills and Equity Committee’ and Director and Head of Trusts and Estates at Talbots Law, had a productive meeting with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) recently regarding the pilots of new online probate services for personal and professional applicants.

The trial of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) new online probate service for personal applicants throughout England and Wales last year had been very positive.

Following effective trials, the system allows the grieving public to apply for probate using a new simpler online service. Those services include applying for a grant of probate, making the statement of truth and paying for probate.

The online service proved fruitful after 93% of users who applied for online probate was ‘satisfied’ with the service they received.

Ian Bond updates Today’s Wills and Probate readers following the consultation with the MoJ.

“The trial with personal applicants has been running successfully from the Oxford District Probate Registry; at the same time the professionals’ pilot has been running from Birmingham District Probate Registry. Whilst these trials have been taken place other (non-digital) work has been sent to other registries’, reducing the number from 12 to 10. The pilot for personal applicants is more advanced than the pilot for professional users.

“The use of professionals to apply for grants of representation (even with the opening up of the process to accountants and licenced conveyancers, as well as SRA regulated firms) has declined year-on-year since 2006. Focusing on the personal applicants over professionals reflects that trend and government policy to give the public greater access to justice. The portal for professionals will combine all online court services (divorce, money claims and probate applications) with one login and access mechanism. This change from the original separate streams for each legal service has led to more delay and cost on the professional pilot.

“The MoJ engaged with several law firms (through the Law Society) to find pilot firms to trial the professional users online-service. The pilot firms (including my own) provide feedback and input into the model, and address questions around how the digitised system could be improved, including through simpler language and processes.

“Like the personal application pilot, the professional pilot is currently limited to applications for a grant of probate within set criteria. This is now expanding to introduce a limited intestacy application for grants of letters of administration for spouses and children. Intestate applications from the wider family will follow shortly afterwards, and then applications for grants of letters of administration will be annexed after that. No timetables are set, but it appears clear that more complex applications (including applications by trust corporations or through the use of powers of attorney) will be put to the back of the queue. Separately, the idea of the caveat process moving online is also being explored.

“The professional pilot users are seeing the ‘positive’ benefits of the move online. It makes the process of the application easier and quicker for professionals. Talbots have seen applications returned quicker than the traditional paper applications. The Law Society welcome the developments with the caution that HMCTS must take care to ensure that online probate applications do not become an avenue either for fraud or for taking advantage of vulnerable clients.

“The recent Non-Contentious Probate Rules changes were based on the user experience and testing of both personal and professional pilot schemes. Previously, the review of the rules was an academic exercise, with representatives from the senior judiciary and legal representative bodies setting out what they wanted from a revised set of rules; this approach has now been abandoned for future development of the rules. Most people will have welcomed the removal of the oath from the process and clients that I have dealt with have welcomed the statement of truth.”

HMCTS details information and criteria on how personal applicants can now apply for probate using a new online service here. The probate service is accepting online applications from personal applicants and a small group of pre-selected solicitors.

What is your opinion of the new online probate services, do you think it will streamline the process?

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanBondTEP