Updated Probate Rules – will a simplified process lead to an increase in unrepresented applicants making costly errors?
Whilst the proposed increase in Probate Fees has attracted a lot of attention in the legal and accountancy world the Government’s announcement that the probate rules in England and Wales are set to change from 27 November 2018 has gone mostly unnoticed.
Although these changes are welcomed, and a positive step forward from a set of rules that have been in place since 1987. These changes form part of a continuing project to modernise and simplify the probate process.
Some of the main changes to note are:
- Probate can be applied for online by applicants who are not represented by a solicitor;
- The requirement for an Oath to be sworn before a solicitor or commissioner for oaths will be removed, so that a statement of truth will be required;
- The deceased’s Will shall no longer need to be signed by a solicitor or commissioner for oaths;
- A number of time limits in the caveat process for disputed estate are to be extended from 8 days to 14 days; and
- Caveat applications and standing searches can be made electronically.
However, dealing with a deceased’s estate can be a complicated task, where it is easy to overlook potential pitfalls that can land personal representatives unto difficult situations if they are not careful, potentially leading to personal liability.
We are concerned that the introduction of a simplified online process will encourage many to proceed without advice from a probate specialist and risk falling into traps which can take time and significant costs to rectify.
With many of the established processes and checks no longer in place, we anticipate the change may also result in an increase in fraudulent or mistaken probate applications being made. If this does occur, it will undoubtedly lead to further distress for the deceased’s family and friends at an already stressful point in time.
We always recommend liaising with a member of our probate team before starting to administer an estate, in particular, to discuss some of the key steps that should always be taken and whether it may be in the estate’s best interest for the solicitor to assist.
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