The number of solicitor applications for a grant of probate has fallen for the fourth year running, down 30% since 2006.
Statistics released by the Probate Service to probate genealogists Title Research show that solicitor applications for a grant in England and Wales in 2010 fell 4% to 158,570 compared to the previous year.
However, the drop has not led to a corresponding increase in private applications, which also fell slightly, by 1% to 88,491; the figures have remained largely static in recent years.
The 2010 figures also showed a slowing of the decline in solicitor applications compared to the previous two years, which David de Menezes, head of communications at Title Research suggested could indicate new entrants and greater competition in the market.
He added: “If one considers grant applications as a barometer on the state of the market, it could also be argued the big brands and new entrants still need to gain some ground before they can claim to have secured a greater share of the consumer market.”
Mr de Menezes said other factors could be at play: more private DIY estate administration, a tougher economic environment leading to belt tightening by consumers, a greater number of estates falling below the threshold requiring a grant, or financial institutions being more relaxed about the need for a grant.
With the Legal Services Board investigating whether to make will-writing, the entire probate process and estate administration a reserved activity, Mr de Menezes questioned what impact a decision to regulate will have on the number of consumers using professional advisers to assist with probate.
“Will more regulation encourage consumers to put their trust in professional probate advice or will it drive up costs creating a barrier for consumers and a rise in mal-administration of estates? Furthermore, how will DIY estate administration be monitored and by whom?”