The government has been working steadily towards an online portal system for obtaining probate since April 2016. Some will view this as welcomed simplification of an archaic system, however will this shift to the internet expose the vulnerable at an already difficult time?
The online probate service has been in development for 18 months and is moving ever closer to being formally opened to the public. In a move which the government is claiming will decrease waiting times, simplify a convoluted system and make it easier to navigate, it would appear on the surface to be a positive step in increasing transparency between the legal industry and the general public.
However, one of the quirks of the system will be the ability for an executor to make a ‘digital statement of truth’ as opposed to the tradition of swearing an oath with a solicitor present. An oath with a solicitor in witness carries significant weight in the legal industry and beyond, not just in the area of probate. Can this weight really be replaced with a simple tick of a box? We’re all guilty of not reading online terms and conditions, are estates at risk from executors simply not reading their obligations online prior to agreeing to them?
These will remain the unanswered questions, at least until six months of testing and trialling the system has been carried out. It may well be the system works well for small single executor estates. However, it remains to be seen whether a fluid system can be designed to incorporate the process required to obtain probate for complex taxable estates.
If you would like details on how we may be able to assist you, please do not hesitate to contact our Wills and probate department on 01616 966 229.
By Michelle Hayes, probate executive in the Wills and probate team