Consumers of probate and estate administration services are significantly more satisfied when they receive their advice face to face, rather than by e-mail, post or telephone, major new research has found.
The YouGov survey of 2,001 consumers, commissioned by the Legal Services Board (LSB), also found that clients quoted fixed fees on average paid a third less than those whose solicitors were working on an hourly rate.
An accompanying survey of 100 probate and estate administration providers – nearly half of whom were solicitors – highlighted alternative business structures (ABSs) as the main challenge businesses face over the next five years, although some solicitors felt they could take advantage of the poor service they anticipate ABSs providing by picking up their dissatisfied clients.
The research was commissioned to inform the LSB’s investigation into whether will-writing, probate and estate administration should become reserved legal activities, the result of which is due next month. As we report separately today, the Legal Services Consumer Panel has recommended that they should be.
The consumer survey found that 46% handled the probate and estate themselves, 36% paid for assistance, and 18% used services which had been pre-arranged by the deceased. Of that second group, nearly half sought help with only some of the process, handling the rest themselves.
Those who handled the matter without any professional support did so often because it was straightforward, with some thinking it would cost too much otherwise, even though they did not seek a quote to confirm this. They generally reported a positive experience of DIY, with 85% saying they would do it again if required.
Of those who did seek help, the survey found that the vast majority used a solicitor. Few shopped around, with cost not an important factor, partly because they did not know how much the service should cost. Instead, either the consumer or the deceased family member using the provider previously, and the provider being local, came out as the main criteria. Searching online accounted for just 3%.
In all 68% of consumers surveyed were satisfied with the service they received when they paid for it, but this masked significant variation: 69% were satisfied when the service was provided by a solicitor, compared to 58% for other providers; and 77% of consumers were satisfied when the service was primarily provided face to face, as opposed to 62% when mainly by e-mail or post, and 58% when by telephone.
The average cost varied greatly based on how the cost was presented. Those paying a fixed price paid an average of £1,238, compared to £1,862 for those on hourly rates. Consumers who were charged on a combination of these two, or mixed with a percentage of the estate, paid an average of £2,531. Some 62% said the final cost was about what they had expected.
The survey concluded: “With a higher proportion of people satisfied than not, those who commission services are generally quite happy with them but there is room for improvement particularly around communications, clarity on costs and timeliness. Lower levels of satisfaction on these aspects drag down overall satisfaction scores. That said there is no evidence of widespread dissatisfaction among consumers.
“There is evidence, however, that expectations about how long it will take are not universally met. Greater upfront clarity would be useful as well as an explanation of the pinch points in the process and what the impact could be on the timetable.”