From the CEO’s Desk: Insight from Exizent’s Response to the Probate Registry Inquiry

In our most recent blog, Nick Cousins, Co-Founder and CEO at Exizent, addressed the current probate challenges surrounding the performance of the Probate Registry. The House of Commons Justice Committee has recently initiated an inquiry seeking insights into people’s experiences of applying for probate including how the administration of probate could be improved for people who are already coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. Read Nick’s blog to stay informed and learn potential technology driven solutions that might be beneficial.

In November 2023, the Government announced a Justice Committee Inquiry into the performance of the Probate Registry. The inquiry sought responses from the market to a range of questions about the impact the current level of performance has on stakeholders, what the underlying issues might be, and importantly what opportunities exist to improve the current state.

As a supplier of technology, dedicated to helping transform the experience of all of those involved in the administration of bereavement, I was keen for Exizent to share our perspective with the Inquiry, and to help consolidate the views of our customers.

At the end of 2023, we canvased our Legal Services customers to gather their responses to the Inquiry’s questions. To that, we added insight gleaned through the development of our new Bereavement Notification Management solution for financial services firms, and our overall market experiences since the inception of Exizent in 2019.

To provide a wider societal viewpoint on how the delays in receiving a grant of probate can exacerbate problems for individuals, we included some of the key findings from our 2023 Bereavement Index.

The triangulation of perspectives provided us with a rich response to the Inquiry, which we submitted earlier this month. We look forward to hearing the outcome of the Inquiry in due course.

In the meantime, I wanted to pull out and share a couple of the most salient points from our response, that I feel are worth promoting further.

Firstly, I need to highlight the human implications of the current situation. We all know that the application for, and receipt of, probate is a critical step in the estate administration process. Our Bereavement Index helps to quantify just how critical timely receipt is to individuals.

62% of bereaved individuals surveyed said the whole estate administration process took longer than expected. The burden of an extended time involved in settling an estate created mental health issues for 51% of our respondents.

Worryingly, the timeframes also led 28% of people to encounter financial difficulties. Qualitative research suggests that this results from having to pay money from their own pockets whilst the estate is tied up in the probate process, or from pressure to release assets to beneficiaries.

For the legal services professionals helping their customers through the process or doing it on their behalf, the feedback is quite clear.

76% of professionals think the probate process is too slow. When probed on what the key drivers of that sentiment are, Institutions being slow to respond is the most often cited reason (53%), and specifically dealing with the courts (application for probate) was highlighted by 48% of our survey respondents.

When invited to suggest ways that the current estate administration process could be improved, faster responses from HMCTS and HMRC were highlighted as the key area for improvement by 49% of professionals (second only to quicker responses from financial institutions at 53%).

Whilst many factors contribute to the ease of settling an estate, it is clear that the compounding effect of delays in getting probate granted is a significant factor in the emotional and financial burden being placed on individuals tasked with being an executor, and a drag on the efficiency of those professionals engaged to help them.

Data from our legal services Customers indicates that delays in receiving responses to probate, and in-flight query resolution, are market wide problems – everyone is impacted. Issues are acute across the board; however, “complex” probate cases are particularly badly impacted.

To alleviate the detrimental effects on individuals, Exizent sees clear opportunities for the application of technology across the probate process. These opportunities are reflected in the responses from our customers, and we believe would provide clear benefits for all.

Our Inquiry response highlighted a series of common problems encountered by stakeholders in the probate process:

  • Manual entry of data into the probate portal, leading to data entry risk and increased rekeying effort and cost (and associated rework then within the Probate Registry).
  • Lack of an alternative for financial services firms to see a copy (or original) of the Grant of Probate before they can settle an account which causes delays and frustration for executors and firms themselves.
  • Lack of transparency about case progress or issues, leading to frustration and subsequent calls into the Probate Registry.
  • Lack of visible connectivity between HMCTS and HMRC for IHT validation which can cause cases to be stopped.
  • A reliance on executors identifying all critical assets and liabilities in the preparation of the application for probate, leading to rework if things are identified post grant.

Taking each area in turn, we outlined some potential technology driven solutions that might help:

  1. The development of an open API supporting the submission of probate applications would allow the creation of integrations between golden source data systems and HMCTS. These golden source data systems (such as Exizent) are used by practitioners to manage their cases. An open API would allow the automatic creation of probate applications without rekeying – creating efficiency and maintaining data integrity.
  2. The creation of a secure, searchable repository of approved probate applications, that could be used by 3rd parties (financial services firms, legal services firms and executors) to verify that probate has been granted would remove a considerable administrative burden from all involved in estate administration.
  3. Evolution of the probate portal (and supporting API) to provide more information about the progress of a case, and an ability to communicate securely and succinctly with a case officer would deliver greater transparency to executors and practitioners, alleviating much of the frustration.
  4. Further work on improving technical connectivity and data sharing between HMCTS and HMRC in relation to IHT progress and granting of probate would reduce the number of stops. Making the combined IHT and probate status visible on the portal would increase transparency.
  5. Estate administration and probate is an incredible use case for the potential value offered by an expanded Open Finance agenda. Mandating the availability of the financial data of the deceased being available on Open Finance APIs to be used by Executors, approved representatives (practitioners), HMCTS and HMRC in the assessment of probate (and IHT) would be transformational for the industry. Such a move would reduce risk, materially speed up the process of estate administration and alleviate much of the burden associated with settling an estate.

Given the grant of probate is the result of a “supply chain” of information we thought it was important to highlight how transformation in the availability of verifiable information across the industry could drive fundamental change in the efficiency and effectiveness of the probate process. We recognise that not all these potential solutions are within the remit of the Justice Committee’s Inquiry, however, we will continue to champion their consideration across the estate administration sector.

We are excited to see the outcome of the Inquiry, and hope that it represents a first step in driving further investment into the Probate Registry to move some of these potential solutions forward, improving the experience for applicants, and importantly case handlers within the Registry.

I would like to share my personal thanks to contributors from our customer base. We believe a collective voice is more powerful than a lone one.

If you would like to learn more about how we can help you and your team to transform the way you deliver estate administration services and improve the bereavement experience for everyone involved, contact us today.

This article was submitted to be published by Exizent as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Wills and Probate. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Wills and Probate.

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