A six-month private test of the government’s new online probate service started last month, it has emerged as it looks to digitise the 280,000 applications received each year.
As part of the project, HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is working to better understand solicitors’ needs to reduce the number of applications that have to be returned.
Paul Downer, service manager at HMCTS with responsibility for delivering the online probate service, said the initial aim was to introduce a new online application form for personal applicants and solicitors.
Writing on the Inside HMCTS blog, Mr Downer said the new service was released into private beta testing on 15 June for approximately six months.
“During the private testing we plan to increase the number of personal applicants to ensure the service meets their needs and developments are implemented using agile processes.
“The initial release will be for simple cases, for example where only one executor has been named and an original will is available. In future we’ll include functionality for more ‘complex’ applications e.g. multiple executors, intestacy cases etc.”
Detailed user research completed since the project began in April 2016 showed a degree of confusion among some users about the process, while many users are vulnerable and in a state of grief, “which means they sometimes find it difficult to understand complex language and legal jargon”.
Mr Downer said HMCTS was simplifying the language and the application process “to reduce the pain points we’ve identified”, with changes made to the existing probate application (PA1) paper form so that it was consistent with the new service.
It has also included a new digital statement of truth within the service which removes the current requirement to swear an oath, while an online payment function will be added in the coming months.
Mr Downer said: “My team are now researching and developing the service to ensure it meets the needs of professional users including solicitors.
“Our research to date has highlighted that solicitors’ have different needs dependent on the size of the firm and their experience in dealing with probate applications.
“We want to use the results from this work to reduce the number of returned application from solicitors by updating our guidance and communications. We’ll also review how probate hearings can be incorporated.”