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Regulate probate and estate administration, says LSCP

Probate and estate administration services should be reserved legal activities, says the Legal Services Consumer Panel, who today has published its final submission to the Legal Services Board’s call for evidence into the industry.

19 March 2012

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Under the panel’s proposals, all providers would be subject to fit and proper checks, ensure proper protection of client money and complaints would be dealt with by the legal ombudsman. Currently, there are no restrictions on who may charge for dealing with someone’s estate after their death.

“We recommend that probate and estate administration services should be made reserved activities along with will-writing services. The main reasons are the risk of fraud and the severity of detriment that can result from overcharging and poor service. The detriment can involve large sums of money, but there also some very human consequences – stress, ill heath and fractured personal relationships – which are difficult to repair,” says the report.

“Probate and estate administration services are also unusual in that the provider’s actions can harm multiple individuals who, since they are not the lawyer’s clients, have little power to control events. Often the persons affected will be elderly, but even the most confident individuals will be at their most vulnerable when grieving for a loved one. In this situation, people are more likely to make poor purchase decisions and find it more difficult to deal effectively with bad service. In this context, we consider that caveat emptor should hold less weight.”

Recommendations include:

  • Probate and estate administration services should be made reserved activities along with will-writing services.

  • There should be no monopoly for existing authorised persons; any business wishing to provide these services should be able to seek authorisation.

A future regime should include:

  • suitability checks on individuals, such as for criminal records and bankruptcy;

  • requiring entities to nominate a head of legal practice and head of finance and administration;

  • access to redress through the legal ombudsman; and

  • financial protection through compensation funds or equivalent measures.

The panel’s submission follows on from its investigation last year into will-writing which called for this activity to be regulated. This triggered a statutory investigation by the Legal Services Board into the need to regulate all three activities.

Categorised in:

Wills, Trusts & Probate