Roundtable discusses innovation in probate services

Yesterday professionals across the sector joined together virtually to discuss innovation in probate services and placing the client at the heart of the estate practice.

The roundtable was opened and hosted by Today’s Wills and Probate, David Opie, along with sponsors Executor Solutions, a specialist property company and an expert bespoke lender, Ampla Finance.

Welcome and introductions commenced with light-hearted lockdown stories. David Opie of Today’s Wills and probate set the scene by asking everyone to think about their experiences over the last 6 – 12 months (not necessarily Covid-19 related) in terms of their relationships with clients. Also, what their plans were when treating each client independently as everyone has a different need and requirement from their probate practitioners so it’s useful to have different tools and experiences to deliver the best service to customers.

Kicking off the discussion was Michael Edwards from Executor Solutions who gave an overview of their business and talked on the value of the estate and passing the benefits onto the beneficiaries.

Michael talked about how the approach to clients has changed and has had to adapt due to Covid-19 – and processes that would have taken 3-4 months is now taking 9 months. New services have arisen because of customer needs and the biggest change for them is the launch of new products.

As a supplier to the industry, Michael said there has been a lot of challenges and was interested to find out what was important to the group and any challenges they have come up against.

The group was asked what pressures they were under and what help they needed in passing the benefits onto the beneficiaries. Paige Gouldthorpe from Fosters said they are extremely busy and will instructions have rocketed and a huge increase in administration instructions too. When administering an estate, you need to get competitive quotes while providing professional service to clients. If using a referral/third party it can reflect on businesses when using these services.

Sophie Wallace from Brachers said clients become more impatient and want everything completed quickly and efficiently as possible, but these types of services would help streamline the process. Apart from the probate registry, she felt the blockers were the banks as they are quite slow in terms of dealing with the paperwork, such as not paying funeral invoices quickly enough.

Jannina Barker Bell Lamb & Joynson Solicitors agreed with Sophie in terms of the banks as you need information from the bank before you can obtain the grant of probate. They are slow in responding to correspondence, if you don’t respond in correct timescales, they close the file down.

Steve Gauke of Ampla Finance talked about funding and finance. He told the group that they have two products that might help with this. The first of this is Executor Loans to pay for inheritance tax, legal fees, repair and renovation of property where applicants can lend up to 70% of the value of the estate, the second loan is a beneficiary loan and again you can lend up to 70% of future inheritance. This allows firms to offer an additional service to their clients.

But where are the blockers and where does the innovation come from as there are solutions out there. Nathan Pavey from Honey Legal said the demand is there and it will increase but the big problem is the probate service. He has been using the probate service since June 2020 but it has been inconsistent. They are looking at developing inhouse products which will have an impact on the wills and probate sector.

David Opie asked the group whether innovation is happening fast enough as seen as the Wills Act is 150 years old. Nathan confirmed they are working on a paperless basis and feels digitisation of dealing with cases is the way forward. Paige said she does a bit of both and uses a case management system with paper files.

David Opie asked the group how they are making sure they are passing the full estate to the beneficiaries and whether there is a drive to pass on as much as possible.

Paige said that you can make interim payments during the process and clients do want to wind it up as soon as possible but also need to ensure you lock in maximum assets in money terms for the estate. It’s the responsibility of the executor to get as much money as possible for their clients. Paige continued to say that in regards to due diligence, estate agents do not ask for any additional information such as potential planning, any tenants or leases which you would need to correctly value a property.

Michael Edwards talked about how due diligence is done for their clients and making sure information is correct and they have the correct valuation of a property.

Nick Cherry said they interact a lot with law firms and have really seen a move away from hard copies such as documents/letters/cheque and instead to be more digitised.

Kalpa Prajapati Grant Saw said Covid-19 has forced them to be paperless as far as they are able to. Her firm is cloud based and has been for a while but she did not work from home until Covid hit. She feels it is a positive that it has been forced on us as it is more beneficial to the clients as the savings have been passed to them due to processes being more streamlined and quicker.

Janina said there is a big desire to move towards paperless but she worries about working with banks who are still traditional based and still dealing in a very old-fashioned way of law.

Paige felt that we need to remember the client journey, such as elderly clients and match their needs and expectations, keeping the client at the centre and their interests at heart.

Nathan told the group they are continually talking to individual clients to find out their needs and how often they want contacting and in what form. The more efficient we are at dealing with cases, the better the reputation and more money is passed to the beneficiaries.

David Opie asked the group how they set themselves apart from their competitors by enhancing their service offerings.

Paige said she treats her clients like family, very one to one and has a good relationship with them. She takes pride in her work and wants to achieve the best for them, and it is all in the mindset and service you want to provide. No day is ever the same in private client, it is about being diverse and adjusting as the clients should always come first.

Janina agreed with Paige and said it is the personal approach and personal touch. There is a lot of emotion in the process and they should guide through it with sensitivity, you are not just dealing with the legal work, its being there and helping them through it. She feels you need to develop and nuture the relationship with clients but worries digitisation will lose this.

Jean Watkins said probate work scares a lot of people because of what is involved. It makes them feel overwhelmed if a legal route is required, they make it very clear what avenue they need to go down and advise. From an ethical point there is no pressure and knowing there is assistance out there from solicitors, it helps them get through the journey.

David asked the group what differentiates your service and whether they use finance and funding options as sales tools.

Michael said it is all about delivering a great service and utilising the right tools to help practitioners and their clients. But each case is different, and their suite of tools/options is to be used as and when for individual clients to use – so they have a number of options available as every client has different needs.

Steve agreed with what they are providing in terms of a suite of options to clients and are there if needed and if the suite of products are bigger its gives clients lots of options.

Janine said personally they don’t use them because of a risk perspective. We have all been trained in specific ways and in a traditional way and is worried that there might be a risk. It will be hard to change practitioners’ perception as she feels she does not know enough about them and that might be what you will be up against.

Nicholas Bevan said the industry are very cautious and conservative but the industry are changing and clients are changing and so as a profession we need to start taking some risk and become more innovative.

Nathan said from the risk point of view that practitioners need to understand there is minimal risks and how to present this to their clients.

For more information about being involved in a Today’s Wills & Probate roundtable, please contact Grace Beech: [email protected].

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