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Industry Predictions For 2020



by: Paul Winterflood

The Wills and probate sector have certainly been on a roller coaster ride in 2019 which rattled practitioners, politicians, Lords and the charity sector to the core.

There was uproar and widespread disproval from the Law Society, House of Lords and Labour Party regarding the infamous probate fees Statutory Instrument which threatened to be enforced for a year, but eventually disappeared due to a political u-turn.

Meanwhile, HM Courts and Tribunals (HMCTS) looked at ways to digitise their processes in order to widen the access to legal services by offering probate applications to be completed online for lay and professional users.

Furthermore, HMCTS restructured and centralised the probate registry service, however this caused widespread delays across the sector, going beyond 13 weeks where normally it would take 10 days for a grant of application – communication breakdowns ensued which angered practitioners and their clients.

Last but not least, the Wills notification service was disrupted when Smee & Ford’s contract was ended, only to be reinstated nearly 6 months later on an interim basis.

This year the Government has certainly been using the Wills and probate sector as a punching bag with potential regulatory and technological changes and probate delays, but despite all this the sector has spurred ahead, with many embracing the potential changes.

2020 is certainly going to be a big year for change but what is going to be on the horizon for the industry? Professionals in the industry comment on their predictions for the coming year.

Ian Bond, Director and Head of Trusts and Estates at Talbots Law comments on what he thinks will be on the horizon in 2020. He said: “New paper application forms for probate with the end of the two tier system for lay and professional applicants. Greater use of the online probate application system with more complex applications being added.

“Closure of remaining registries with full centralisation of the probate service. A fee review will take place and probate fees will change (go up) but not in the way previously planned.

“We have a new public guardian and they are actively looking at LPAs with digital signatures. I believe that the whole process of creating and registering LPAs will change in 2020.

“Finally, the long awaited Law Commission Wills project will come back after a year’s hiatus whilst they dealt with surrogacy. This will see a reduced age to make Wills, use of digital signatures or other mediums to record wishes and also providing judges with wider powers to interpret Wills and give ruling to fit the circumstances.”

Emily Deane, technical counsel at STEP commented:

“STEP is monitoring the review of legal services in England & Wales closely for potential impacts on our members. We do recognise the complexity and size of the current legal services framework and therefore welcome any attempts to simplify the landscape for the benefit of the consumer. However any amendments to the framework or indeed the regulatory objectives must be carefully considered with evidence and clarity as to how any revisions will act for the benefit for public interest long-term.

“We are firmly of the view that Will writing and trust and estate administration would benefit from being added to the reserved activities. Due to the diverse nature of our membership, we do not believe that this work should fall to only one of the existing legal services providers however but rather that those who already provide high quality work in this area can be drawn into the regulated sphere with training and qualifications being standard amongst practitioners. We believe that ensuring all providers are appropriately qualified is core to protecting the public and providing access to full redress mechanisms to more providers adds a further layer of protection and assurance.”

Meg Abdy, Development Director at Legacy Foresight added:

“After the chaos and confusions of the past year, 2020 should be a little calmer for the charitable legacy sector.

“Hopefully the backlog of cases at the probate registry will finally be cleared, so the flow of charitable bequests will return to normal.

“And with the first round of Brexit shenanigans ‘resolved’, the acute economic uncertainty we have been living through will be reduced. That means that sterling, share prices and perhaps even house prices will recover somewhat, which in turn will lead to a gradual pick up in residual bequest values.

“That said, we are not expecting a dramatic uplift in legacy incomes over the coming 12 months!

“For our charity clients, the biggest unknown is the new contract (and possibly new company) to run the legacy notification service. There is a huge opportunity to develop a service fit for the 21st century. We hope that – on this occasion – the court service rises to the challenge and creates something we all feel proud of.”

Rob Cope, Director of Remember A Charity, further added:

“I predict that many of the issues that emerged in 2019, may re-emerge again in 2020.

“Expect a review of the legacy notification service, moving from the current interim basis to a longer-term solution. The proposed probate fee structure could be revisited, although perhaps not to the same degree as previous proposals. And we may also see a review of inheritance tax, which could have an adverse effect on charitable legacy giving.”

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