Probate – Why use accountants

Use accountants over solicitors for probate, say experts

A solicitor from a leading accountancy body has recently stated that clients would find it less stressful and more inexpensive to instruct any probate work using their existing accountant, rather than a solicitor.

This statement was recently featured within Legal Futures and is a notion that was also touched upon by a senior partner, Lynton Stock of Shelley Stock Hutter in an article featured in Accountancy Age.

Stock commented: “As long as I can remember, the professional of choice to deal with probate has always been the lawyer.

“This has always made little sense as when dealing with the numbers and the assets of an estate naturally people should be turning to their accountants – as they will often have the information required to start the probate process.

“The reality is that the lawyers dealing with the cases would turn to the accountants anyway for much of the information required…For uncontested probate cases, clients should be turning to their accountants and not their lawyers and cutting out the middle man.”

Shelley Stock Hutter along with its Head of Legal Practice, is licensed as an alternative business structure (ABS) to handle probate work.

Other financial experts go a step further arguing that it is actually to the benefit of the client to trust probate work to their accountant. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) explained:

“For example, in respect of the process of obtaining grant of probate, we believe that it would be less stressful (as well as less expensive) for clients to engage their accountant, rather than engage another professional who does not already have a thorough knowledge of the deceased’s estate.”

In its response to the Competition and Markets Authority’s interim report, the ACCA continued to suggest that clients of accountants “would benefit from using a ‘one-stop shop’ where accountancy services and legal services merge”.

There have also been suggestions that, due to the nature of how accountants usually bill work by charging an hourly fee, it can also be a lot more cost-effective than using an established probate solicitor where fees are calculated depending on the value of the estate.

The exception to this is contested probate cases. Most probate proceeds on an uncontested basis in which it remains a largely financial exercise, which is where the above arguments stem from and being something accountants have been trained for. As it stands, accountants are not legally allowed to deal with contested probate cases, however this is something that could change in the future, which many people think makes sense when currently there’s the potential for crossover or duplication of work already.

Stock concludes: “Valuing the estate often requires input from accountants even if the probate is handled by a firm of lawyers. This involves engaging two separate professional firms – potentially duplicating work and increasing time costs. Probate and inheritance tax (IHT) go hand in hand and accountants are used to dealing with all the specifics of IHT, as well as other taxes.”

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