Accountants can now offer probate services from October and are expected to undercut solicitors' fees
The cost of managing someone’s estate after their death is expected to fall considerably after accountants started offering probate services.
Probate, which refers to the legal authority to manage a deceased’s estate, has historically only been offered by solicitors. They typically charge a percentage of the value of the estate, which can be as high as 5pc, plus an hourly fee in some cases. For complex cases the charges can quickly spiral, particularly if one or more parties contest the will.
From next month, chartered accountants can apply to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) for a licence to offer probate services for uncontested wills. Any contested cases will still need to be handled by a solicitor.
Peter James, head of regulator policy at the ICAEW, said costs will fall as competition increases. He said accountants are likely to offer fixed fees or hourly rates rather than charge a percentage of the estate.
Accountancy firm Reeves has 16 accountants applying for probate licences next month. Clive Stevens, executive chairman of Reeves, said the changes will increase competition for probate assignments.
“This should lead to a reduction in the cost of probate,” he said. “For a typical, non-contentious estate this could be by as much as one-third, which is potentially very significant for consumers.”
Comparison website CompareLegalCosts.co.uk said customers are increasingly demanding fixed fees for probate services.
Founder Michael Welsh said the legal market is shifting towards this model, but many traditional firms are resisting change.
“Accountants are more equipped to offer fixed costs,” he said. “They use pricing models that allow them to calculate exactly how much a certain job will cost them and what to charge for it. This is exactly what customers want – you wouldn’t buy a car without knowing exactly what it was going to cost you.”