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Institute of Chartered Accountants Seeks to Regulate Probate Work

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has launched a consultation to become a regulator of probate work and a licensing body for alternative business structures (ABSs), Legal Futures reported in late June, citing ICAEW's draft application.

Initial estimates show that about 250 companies might seek the institute's accreditation to conduct probate activities.  The figure includes 100 larger firms willing to become ABSs (officially known as licensed bodies), in which only some of the owners and principals are authorised to do probate work.  The remaining 150 sole practitioners would look to become authorised companies, meaning all their owners and principals will have individual authorisation for probate.

Being allowed to accredit accountancy professionals to do probate would bring advantages to consumers through a larger pool of services available on a national scale, a more efficient delivery of services and reduced prices, the institute said.

The ICAEW expects to regulate mostly accountancy-led firms, though non-accountants might also seek its regulation. The survey ICAEW has carried out for the application also shows that few companies have clear plans to hire legal professionals such as solicitors to do probate. This potentially means that firms will use their available staff and would not employ additional legally qualified professionals to deliver probate services.

The ICAEW believes accountants who will be individually authorised for probate will need a training course of three and a half days as their existing professional background and the "straightforward" characteristics of non-contentious probate will help them quickly learn probate and estate administration laws.

The Institute said it expects to authorise companies to do probate and license ABSs in up to 12 months. The ICAEW said it would guide those who want to provide legal services and/or switch to an ABS but would leave its members the choice on what services they would deliver.