It would be less stressful and less expensive for clients to use their accountants for probate work than solicitors, one of the leading accountancy bodies has claimed.
Meanwhile, the head of one of the alternative business structures (ABSs) regulated by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has said it made “little sense” for lawyers to handle uncontested probate work.
In its response to the Competition and Markets Authority’s interim report, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) argued that there was “significant public benefit in new providers of legal services entering the market”.
It explained: “For example, in respect of the process of obtaining grant of probate, we believe that it would be less stressful (as well as less expensive) for clients to engage their accountant, rather than engage another professional who does not already have a thorough knowledge of the deceased’s estate.”
The ACCA also argued that clients of accountants “would benefit from using a ‘one-stop shop’ where accountancy services and legal services merge”.
The ACCA has actually been an approved regulator of probate work since 2009 – long before the ICAEW became one – but it has not authorised any members because of concerns about the cost of “possible disproportionate levels of regulatory oversight”.
In an article in Accountancy Age, meanwhile, Lynton Stock, senior partner of top 100 accountancy firm Shelley Stock Hutter and its head of legal practice since it was licensed as an ABS to handle probate work, wrote that for “as long as I can remember, the professional of choice to deal with probate has always been the lawyer”.
He continued: “This has always made little sense as when dealing with the numbers and the assets of an estate naturally people should be turning to their accountants – as they will often have the information required to start the probate process.
“The reality is that the lawyers dealing with the cases would turn to the accountants anyway for much of the information required… For uncontested probate cases, clients should be turning to their accountants and not their lawyers and cutting out the middle man.”
Mr Stock explained: “Most probates proceed on an uncontested basis and the process of dealing with probate is very much a financial exercise – something which accountants have been trained for. Currently accountants are not legally allowed to deal with contested probates – although this could change in the future.
“Valuing the estate often requires input from accountants even if the probate is handled by a firm of lawyers. This involves engaging two separate professional firms – potentially duplicating work and increasing time costs. Probate and inheritance tax (IHT) go hand in hand and accountants are used to dealing with all the specifics of IHT, as well as other taxes.”
Finally Mr Stock argued that accountants were likely to be “much more cost competitive” because they usually charge on an hourly basis, rather than on the value of the estate, “and their charge-out rates historically are considerably lower than a lawyer”.
The ICAEW has now licensed more than 250 ABSs to conduct probate work.