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Accountants move in on probate services

10 November 2009

Two accountancy bodies already have the ability to license members to carry out probate services and one more looks likely to qualify before the end of the year, it has emerged.

However, at this stage it is understood that no probate licences have actually been issued by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) or the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland (ICAS).

The Solicitors Act 1974 restricts to lawyers the provision of services for reward relating to a grant of probate or letters of administration. Parliamentary approval is needed to extend this to other professionals.

Peter Burton, head of regulatory policy at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), said the organisation hoped to join the others as an approved regulator of probate services by the end of the year.

“The grant of probate is basically a giant tax return,” Burton said. “We are frequently instructed by solicitors who can’t cope with it, but we have to speak to them and not to the client.

“Much of the information may already be on the file and generally it’s not a particularly difficult task. It’s a little bit of the process stuck in the middle we cannot do.”

Burton said that “many issues” had to be resolved before licences could be issued and accountants could do the work. He said some, such as training, could be dealt with, but others, such as separating the regulatory and representative roles of accountancy bodies, might prove “insurmountable”.

A spokesman for the ICAS said “a few steps” were needed before the first accountants could be licensed to offer probate services.

He said that issues such as training had already been discussed with the Legal Services Board. “We’re keen to move as quickly as we can,” he said.

A spokesman for the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) said the society was not opposed to giving accountants the ability to obtain grants of probate as long as they were properly regulated and governed.

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