The Co-op has acquired Simplify Probate, the UK’s second largest provider of probate, as it bids to become the dominant player in the market.
It has also unveiled a 13.6% increase in legal services turnover for 2017.
Simplify Probate was part of the Simplify Group, which also includes QualitySolicitors and residential property services company Move With Us.
Simplify Probate has 170 staff, taking the total staff number at Co-op Legal Services to just over 600. The price is undisclosed, even though it is likely to appear in the Co-op’s accounts next year.
As part of the deal, Co-op Legal will work in a strategic partnership with Move With Us, and its sister businesses DC Law and JS Law, to handle the property and conveyancing requirements arising from estate administration work.
It will replace the three firms on Co-op Legal’s conveyancing panel.
Last year, the Co-op brought its legal services operation together with its much larger funerals business to create a Life Planning division. It handled 16,342 legal matters last year, up 321 on 2016.
The division as a whole reported turnover of £343m and profit of £66m for 2017, of which £25m and £1.5m respectively came from legal services. The legal turnover figure was up from £22m last year, although profits remained the same.
The increase in turnover despite the static number of matters was because the division handled more probate and fewer personal injury cases during the year.
In a statement, the Co-op said the Simplify deal cemented its position “as the leading provider of probate in the UK and underpins its ambition to grow its Later Life business, which currently provides a range of services and products including wills, probate, lasting power of attorney and funeral plans.
“The transformation will see the Co-op’s members and customers benefit from faster distribution of estate proceeds and improved access to regulated estate planning services.
“Co-op Legal is accelerating its investment in technology and services to deliver premium regulated services at affordable fixed prices.”
Matt Howells, managing director of Co-op’s Legal Services and Later Life business, added: “We’re very excited about the Co-op’s potential to transform later life planning in the UK and the acquisition of Simplify Probate is a key part of that ambition.
“This agreement will help us increase access to quality, fixed-fee probate services in what is a fragmented market.
“Our focus is on delivering a suite of fully regulated end-to-end services for later life planning, whilst also promoting a better way of doing business through a faster and more transparent way of delivering probate.”
However, he stressed that Co-op Legal would continue to offer non-probate services, like personal injury and employment.
David Grossman, CEO of the Simplify Group, said: “We are proud to have built a business that will now combine with the Co-op to create the undisputed leader in the industry.
“The sale of our probate business to the Co-op allows the Simplify Group to increase our focus and scale in conveyancing and property services.
“We are thrilled to be entering into a long-term strategic partnership to provide conveyancing and property services to the new enlarged Co-op probate business.”
The Co-op Group’s main results statement said: “We’ll grow the Life Planning & Legal part of the business organically and through acquisitions. We’ll focus on probate and wills and form new partnerships to bring our products to the market.
“We’ll broaden our marketing to the over 50s and provide access to them 24/7 through online, phone and face to face channels across the UK.
“Across Life Planning and Legal, we’ll be growing our own in-house experts – providing a career framework for our colleagues, investing in training our own legal advisers and using online learning.”