ACCA is pleased to announce that we are now licensing our practitioners to conduct probate work.
Join us for a webinar at 12.30pm on Friday 27 April when Shan Cole of Kaplans will use a case study to provide a brief overview of the probate process in the UK. Register for the webinar now .
Practitioners wishing to apply for authorisation for probate are required to hold a legal activities qualification. Members of ACCA must hold a practising certificate and have successfully completed a relevant course and assessment covering specific areas of probate work.
Individuals who are not members of ACCA can also apply for probate authorisation and must hold (or be eligible to hold) probate authorisation with another approved regulator, or have completed a relevant course and assessment covering specific areas of probate work, or be otherwise entitled to carry on probate activities under the Legal Services Act 2007.
Firms wishing to apply for probate authorisation must apply for a Firm’s Legal Activities Certificate (FLAC). Individuals are not eligible to undertake probate work through ACCA unless the firm(s) in which they practise holds a FLAC.
Court case examines charges during probate
In March the High Court ruled on the case Mussell and another v Patience that an executor who obtains legal advice during estate administration need not provide details of the reasons for charges in the estate accounts, other than the basic voucher stating the fees charged.
The case concerned the estate of Louise Patience, who died in 1997 leaving her property among her four adult children. The executors of the estate were named as her daughter and her solicitor. On her death, they applied for and obtained a grant of probate and proceeded to administration of the estate.
However, before the assets were distributed, a dispute arose in which two of the four beneficiaries objected to the legal fees incurred by the executors. The executors did not wish to distribute the estate until it was clear that the accounts were accepted. The defendants did not agree that those accounts were correct. This was really a claim by the executors, seeking the court's approval of their estate accounts and a direction that the estate should be distributed accordingly.
The beneficiaries challenged 26 payments made to two law firms relating to invoices for legal services on the basis that insufficient information was provided to demonstrate the reasonableness of the solicitors' charges.
They insisted that they were entitled to this information in order to assess whether the charges made by the executors' solicitors were or were not reasonable. Some of the bills, they pointed out, merely identified the estate, the addressee of the invoice, the statement that the charge made consisted of professional charges, and the amount of the charge.
The judge, Matthews HHJ, looked for guidance in other sources including s.31 and s.35 of the Trustee Act 2000 which states that a trustee is entitled to be reimbursed from the trust funds, or may pay out of the trust funds, expenses properly incurred by him when acting on behalf of the trust.
The judge concluded that the information required to be provided by way of ‘voucher’ to support an entry in the estate accounts need not exceed the basic information contained in the solicitors' invoices. It was not necessary for the voucher to disclose the number of hours worked or the hourly rate, or to give a detailed breakdown of exactly what work was done. All that is needed is to show that the executors have spent the estate's money on proper estate business. Moreover, in a case where the estate administration has been carried on through solicitors, there would be no need to add words to the effect that the charges were incurred in the administration of the estate, as this would be obvious to all concerned.