I mentioned in my last post that the new regulatory regime for legal services in the UK means that various bodies, such as the SRA have been allowed to grant licences to firms to carry out 'reserved activities' - those aspects of legal work that only qualified professionals may carry out. Traditionally the main bodies have represented solicitors, barristers, notaries public, legal executives and licensed conveyancers.
In the past, these different strands of lawyers have had to keep their ownership structures separate (with the exception of notaries public, who tend to be solicitors as well). However, now other bodies are able to apply for a licence to allow them to act as a regulator of legal services as well. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has confirmed that it has applied to be a regulator of probate services.
It is perhaps unsurprising that the move has been made. A significant part of probate work is to do with accounts. The inheritance tax returns for estates above the threshold entail one long form, with another form for every question you answer 'yes' to. To some extent it seems like an accountant's dream. There is more information on Inheritance Tax here.
If the application is successful (and I see no reason why it wouldn't be), I would imagine a significant number of small, local accountancy practices would look to branch out into this area. From a lawyer's point of view, though, this would be a significant step towards integrating accountancy and law practices into one, to offer the combined expertise at good value. As the ICAEW states:
'The LSA opens up new opportunities for ICAEW Chartered Accountants by:allowing new business structures between lawyers, accountants and other professionals (such as IFAs) allowing accountants to provide reserved legal services which were previously restricted to lawyers.'
So this could be both good and bad news for us solicitors who specialise in probate work.