The Probate System is Unfit for Purpose, But Can Tech Help?

A new survey has shown just how unfit for purpose the current probate system is – an area of legal work that at some point will impact many of us. 49% of probate professionals said that the time taken to administer an estate was unreasonable, and that in the UK alone the process created at least 2.8 million letters per year and perhaps as many as 5.8 million, with over half of those letters going unanswered for more than a month by banks and other institutions that held financial data.

The survey by Exizent, a legal tech platform focused on this area, underlines the reality that a central plank of the legal system, i.e. probate, whereby assets are transferred to those named in a will, is badly in need of modernisation. And as seen with the reliance on posted letters and slow and bureaucratic processing of information requests, we are still largely stuck in the 19th Century.

Moreover, given that the pandemic has made physical meetings with lawyers more difficult, and impacted financial institutions’ ability to handle incoming letters, we really are at a crunch point for the probate sector.

The answer clearly has to be to move to a digital process, where everything from ID checking, to asset confirmation and transfer, can happen online, rather than depending on, in some cases, dozens of letters that go unanswered for weeks, in turn creating a huge strain for the families of the bereaved.

The survey also found:

  • Most asset discovery work is still manual and paper-based,
  • 73% of firms say lockdown has further exacerbated the delay problem,
  • And, just 7% of the surveyed group thought the probate process is efficient.

In terms of the software used today, they found that 85% of firms didn’t use software that had been designed to help speed up and manage the probate process. And 18%, i.e. just under a fifth of the firms surveyed, said they used no software at all ‘to manage probate’, despite the data heavy and complex process.

This also underlines the challenges faced by people when engaging with smaller ‘High Street’ law firms, which handle a significant proportion of such matters, in that they are not investing in technology to help improve the client experience.

At the same time, despite it being an ongoing problem faced by hundreds of thousands of family members each year, (given that around 600,000 people pass away each year just in the UK alone), the paper-based and cumbersome process of probate, remains stuck in a world of ‘snail mail’, that is demanding physical sight of ID and ownership proofs rather than accepting anything digital, and operating without a shared digital platform to speed things up.

Nick Cousins, founder and CEO of Exizent, which believes they have a solution in the shape of its platform, said: ‘People’s lives are increasingly dispersed and varied. Performing executry work with a growing number of banks and institutions is more complex than ever. Without standardisation and the right tools available, too much time is wasted on administration. What this means for families is frustration, long delays and unnecessary anguish in trying to piece together what’s required to administer an estate and release assets to beneficiaries.’ 

The Exizent online platform is now working with banks, share registrars, and other institutions to build standardised requests and responses. Their platform recently raised £3.6m ($4.8m) in funding to help them build out their solution.

[ Survey sample of 72 professionals at legal services firms in the UK probate sector. ]

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