Non-solicitor probate applications on the rise, and other statistics from the Probate Service

This is a copy of a post which I wrote for The Law Wizard blog,
dated 16 April 2014.

We asked the Probate Service for up-to-the-minute statistics on applications for grants of representation in England & Wales. The results reveal – among other things – a steady rise in the number of personal applicants.

Here are our findings in full.

Applications for grants of representation

We asked the Probate Service to provide information for calendar years 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The total number of grants of representation has held relatively steady over this period. Most recently, there were 255,792 applications for grants in 2013, with 251,972 in 2012 and 251,912 in 2011.

In 2012 there were 499,331 deaths in England and Wales (the most recent data available). By comparison with Probate Service statistics – and as already widely known – a grant of representation is required after around half of all deaths.

Rise in applications from personal applicants

Applications for grant from lay applicants has risen steadily in recent years. In 2013 there were a record 96,594 personal applicants, compared to 92,855 in 2012 and 90,441 in 2011.

Combining our findings with those already available for previous years, we see a roughly 13% increase in applications from private individuals since 2006.

Applications from solicitors remains static

Previous results show a 30% drop in applications for grant by solicitors between 2006 and 2010.

We have found that, since 2010, the number of applications from solicitors and other professionals has remained relatively steady. In calendar year 2013 there were 159,198 professional applicants, almost identical to the 159,117 in 2012, with 161,471 in 2011.

The chart below shows the total number of applications for grants of representation alongside the applications by solicitors and private applicants. We have combined data revealed to us by the Probate Service for 2011-2013 with data published by Title Research for 2006-2010.

Testate vs intestate estates

The data revealed to us by the Probate Service shows a significant variation – but no discernible trend – in the number of applications for grants for testate estates (in other words, applications for grants of probate in the strict sense). In 2013 there were 190,603 such applications, with 208,711 in 2012 and 188,321 in 2011.

We also asked the Probate Service for the number of applications for grants of letters of administration and grants of letters of administration with will annexed (including estates with no will and estates with a will but no acting executors). The number of these applications has remained steady, with 54,189 in 2013, 54,416 in 2012 and 54,039 in 2011.

(The exceptionally eagle-eyed among you may have noted that the number of applications grants of probate / letters of administration do not tally with the total number of applications for grants of representation, particularly for 2012. We have asked the Probate Service to explain the anomaly and will report back if/when we hear more.)

What should we make of all this?

The statistics show that ‘DIY-ers’ are gaining market share (so to speak), and solicitors – while halting the decline in probate work – are failing to buck the DIY trend.

It is an interesting result, which challenges the assumption that new probate brands and more competition are resulting in more work for professional probate services.

This may still happen. If solicitors can successfully capture more of the DIY market with better, faster, cheaper services targeting lower-value estates, and if/when more household names enter the sector, we could see more people tempted by the convenience and reassurance of professional services.

However, as shown by the statistics revealed to us, this has yet to happen. As things stand, it seems more consumers have the confidence and resources to make personal applications than at any time previously.