The Lord Chancellor yesterday approved the application by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) to become a regulator of probate services and licensing authority for alternative business structures (ABSs).
Accepting the recommendation of the Legal Services Board (LSB), Chris Grayling set the scene for the ICAEW and its members to become major players in the legal world given the institute’s intention to move on, in due course, to regulate litigation and other legal services.
Vernon Soare, the ICAEW’s executive director said: “The decision is great news for consumers looking for probate services who will now be able to use appropriately qualified ICAEW chartered accountants as an alternative to traditional providers.
“The Lord Chancellor has broken new ground in approving our application as the first non-legal body to be able to regulate probate services and licence ABS. It is practical evidence of the role that the Legal Services Board is playing in transforming the provision of legal services and giving more choice to the consumer.
“Between now and the date when the relevant orders are approved by Parliament, we will be working closely with ICAEW member firms to ensure they have access to the training and support they need to be able to offer these new services to consumers.”
Approving the ICAEW’s bid  in December, LSB chairman David Edmonds said allowing accountants to deliver reserved probate work, alongside related services they currently provide such as trust planning and estate administration, “will enable firms to offer a more integrated service to clients who, in non-contentious cases, will be able to use a single adviser, which in turn should have an impact on the overall cost of the service for consumers and increase competition”.
The ICAEW has pursued the twin approach so that sole practitioners and firms will become ‘authorised firms’ – in which all principals and owners are individually authorised to conduct probate – or ‘licensed bodies’ (the formal name for ABSs), in which not all principals and owners are authorised for probate.
Research conducted for the ICAEW’s application to the LSB indicated that around 250 firms – 150 sole practitioners and 100 larger practices – might seek accreditation.
Four firms of accountants, including PwC, have already been awarded ABS licences by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, although it emerged recently that one, Devon-based Davisons, had surrendered theirs.