Fixed Fee Probate & Declining Solicitor Market Share

The latest figures released by the Probate Service have shown a decline in the number of solicitor applications made for grants of probate.
56% of all grants were issued to private individuals in 2011. This is a major increase on 2010 when just 36% were personal applications.  Why are so many people rejecting solicitor’s probate services?
A Guardian article titled The £600m RIP-off published in 2009, sparked a media frenzy of negative publicity for banks and solicitors offering probate services. At this point, High street banks and solicitors had a massive 88% share of £1.25 billion probate services market. The £600 million is actually a reference to a quote from Adam Walker of Final Duties, who claimed that half of this was blatant over-charging.
"It's a £600m a year rip-off, where banks and solicitors are charging large fortunes to sort out small estates. It's worse because they prey on grief-stricken families who are not in a mood to argue, or shop around.”
The reason for this is the archaic way that fees are calculated, based on estate value. Some probate companies charge between 1-4% of the estate value for their services. The problem is, this is not always in proportion to the amount of work that must be carried out to administer the estate. For example, one determining factor in the amount of time and paperwork involved in winding up an estate is how many financial institutions assets are spread over. An estate with 4 bank accounts will involve more work than one with 2, regardless of the amounts of money involved.
Solicitors with traditional hourly-rate/ plus disbursements, pricing structures have also been criticised.  Consumers have reported on the unwillingness of solicitors to quote a fixed price, using the ‘how long’s a piece of string?’ argument. Ultimately leaving consumers shocked and confused when they get their final bill. With rates of up to £400 per hour, plus extra charges for court fees, extra client support, postage, stationery, receiving emails, sending letters etc., it’s no surprise that people opt for a fixed fee probate service.
More, and more reports and damming evidence came to light from Which?, The Daily Mail, BBC’s Rip-Off Britain and Panorama. It is indeed possible that all this negative media attention has led to the rise in personal probate applications.
There’s no need to fall into any of these traps, you can still get a fair price for probate. Use a company that offers a low-cost fixed fee probate service.   Make sure that fees are agreed in advance and that you fully understand the service that will be provided. Get a full breakdown of what’s included in the fees and any extra charges your likely to incur. Watch out for small print and any hidden extras.

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