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Here come the accountants – ICAEW launches ABS regulator bid


Probate: accountants not planning to hire lawyers to do work

Around 100 firms of accountants are expected to become alternative business structures (ABSs), the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) said today as it unveiled its draft application to become a regulator of legal work.

Starting a public consultation on its plans to regulate reserved probate activities, the ICAEW laid out a twin-track approach to allow accountancy firms to do the work. They could 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 application indicated that around 250 firms might seek accreditation from the ICAEW: 150 sole practitioners, who would have authorised firm status, and 100 larger practices, most of whom would look to become ABSs.

Allowing the institute to accredit accountancy firms to conduct probate work “should drive various benefits for consumers in terms of an increased availability of services nationally, lower prices and efficiencies in service delivery”, it said.

The application allows for non-accountants to seek regulation by the ICAEW, but said “we expect that in the main firms will be accountancy-led”. It continued: “Few firms responding to the survey indicated a clear intention to employ solicitors or other legally qualified staff to carry out probate work.

“Around half of the larger firms of two or more principals that responded said that they were unsure, with over a third indicating that solicitors would not be employed. This possibly implies that firms will look to current members of staff to become accredited for probate, rather than taking on additional legal professionals to deliver these services.”

To become individually authorised, accountants will have to undertake a three and a half day course under the plans, with the ICAEW saying that their existing training, combined with the “relatively straightforward” nature of non-contentious probate work, means it does not need to require “detailed study of the laws governing wills, probate and estate administration”.

The ICAEW will not authorise firms or individuals to conduct estate administration but will regulate such work where conducted by an accredited probate firm. It will also not impose restrictions or conditions on the non-reserved activities an accredited firm may carry out. The Legal Services Board is currently working on making estate administration and will-writing reserved legal activities.

Vernon Soare, ICAEW executive director of professional standards, said: “Following the public consultation and subject to the due process prescribed in the Legal Services Act, we hope to authorise firms for probate and to license ABS within 12 months.

“The decision whether to become a provider of legal services and/or change to an ABS is for ICAEW members and firms to consider. We have developed guidance to help firms in making this decision.”