By Legal Futures Associate Exizent
For many solicitors or other professionals new to the domain, the Estate administration process can seem vast, complex and often very time-consuming.
With the assets of individuals increasingly widespread and diverse, the technologies and communication modes involved in managing the process frequently extend the time taken to complete a case far longer than all parties would hope – prolonging the stress for the bereaved.
But what are some of the most common hurdles standing in the way of more efficiently managed cases, and can they be overcome?
- A lack of information altogetherAKA – no Will provided and/or very limited information about assets and liabilities. For legal professionals, starting from scratch and relying on research and word of mouth of the deceased’s friends and relatives is perhaps one of the most difficult and time-consuming tasks when dealing with an estate – particularly considering that the number of bank accounts, properties, cars, loans etc. can nowadays be large.
- Incorrect information provided
When an estate Executor is a friend or family member of the deceased they’re already going through a very difficult time. Dealing with a complicated process like probate only adds to the stress the individual is experiencing, often making it difficult for them to think as clearly as they might usually. It’s therefore common for them to recall information around the deceased incorrectly or inconsistently to the solicitor, which can often – through nobody’s fault – result in rework for all parties and additional time spent on that case.
- Errors replicating information
The Estate administration/executry process involves capturing and replicating information about a deceased and their estate within numerous documents, forms and calculations. When inputting information manually, even the best of us can make a spelling mistake, mistype a number or simply miss details altogether. Any occurrences will hopefully be spotted during the process but even this will mean rework for the solicitor that could have been avoided.
- Too much information held on a multitude of systems and toolsWith a plethora of information to keep track of and numerous stakeholders to liaise with, it’s not uncommon for Solicitors to hold various documents on a case in spreadsheets, emails and physical letters and forms. However, as one solicitor discussed with Exizent, when working on more than one case “it’s often difficult to keep on top of each individual one to know which is being discussed [without] memorising or filing through numerous documents”. This can make managing cases difficult and incredibly time intensive – a significant hurdle in the process.
- Unpredictable effort and costs
The professionals we talk to all want to do an excellent job for their clients. However, when bereaved family members opt to call on the skills of a professional like a trained solicitor, getting the balance between driving efficiencies and offering a personalised service can be a difficult one to get right. Especially when battling the costs of physical letters, extensive professional time, and delays in waiting for, for example, correspondence with financial institutions. One in four individuals suffer financial difficulties because of the process. So how can legal services firms improve efficiencies while driving down costs to benefit the client?
- Delays resulting from paper processes
In a digital world, it’s sometimes surprising that much correspondence is still done by physical letter considering it’s a part of the process renowned for being time-intensive and risky, with letters containing personal details sometimes lost. Whether due to its ‘personal touch’ or ‘this is the way it’s always been done’, it’s perhaps time to realise the efficiency provided by sending information over the internet – avoiding delay and risk of information loss. But whether this can be done safely, avoiding cyberattacks, is a question that must be answered.
- Delays due to third parties
As a professional executor trying to corroborate assets of an estate, you’re required to deal with other institutions to validate information like bank accounts, loans and debts. As a solicitor, you can complete your own tasks regarding an estate as quickly as possible but can’t always rely on the timeliness of others. Unfortunately, as found in the 2021 Bereavement Index, 64% of law firms said it is these delays that cause their clients to become stressed – at a time when stress is the last thing they need. But can it be avoided?
- Bereaved clients
When managing an estate, it’s unlikely that dealing with upset customers can be avoided – but exacerbating these feelings with lengthy timescales and insufficient communications should be. With smoother processes, and more consistent communications that keep them up to date with the current standing of the estate, firms should be able to keep client concerns at bay. But with timely tasks like completing IHT forms and slow communications and delays while you wait to hear back from institutions (who can often take 12 weeks or more to confirm accounts) how is this possible?
- Resourcing and business continuity
As a case owner diligently working to administer a deceased’s estate, you need a break from time to time or may have an unexpected absence. As the key worker on a case, it can often be hard to keep information and notes up to date for a colleague to take over in your absence. But this could cause unnecessary delays or, in extreme scenarios, put the wellbeing of the bereaved at risk by prolonging the process. But what’s the alternative?
Administering an estate has become more complicated in recent years as the location of people’s assets and liabilities has become more fragmented. This is only made more difficult when a person dies without putting their affairs in order. So, isn’t it time we used technology to make things easier?
Learn how you can overcome the key hurdles in Estate Administration by clicking here.