By the summer Parliament is expected to have broken the monopoly that allows only solicitors to get a grant of probate. Solicitors at present have about 95 per cent of the market. The rest is in the hands of the banks, which have to use solicitors.
Although licensed conveyancers compete with solicitors for conveyancing work, costs have not fallen. Anyone will now be able to apply to be a probate practioner. Accountants are hot favourites to do the work.
Angela Williams, a chartered accountant with her own practice in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, says: 'Accountants are ideally placed to do probate, particularly if they have been involved in the tax planning prior to death.'
However, for the new system to work there will have to be watertight regulations to prevent unscrupulous practioners running off with the proceeds of estates.
Richard Bark-Jones, a partner in the Liverpool solicitors Morecroft Dawson and Garnett, says: 'Solicitors tend to charge 1 per cent of the estate plus a figure on top for the time spent. On an average estate it works out very roughly at about 1.5 to 2.5 per cent.
'I have recently been asked to look at bills submitted by banks for probate work. On one estate of pounds 40,600, Barclays Bank charged pounds 1,840 plus VAT. I reckon a solicitor would have charged pounds 600 plus VAT,' he said.
Lloyds Bank only offers the facility to its richer customers - private banking clients who have liquid assets in excess of pounds 75,000. A spokesman for Lloyds said: 'We would give our other customers a list of local solicitors. The charges on the first pounds 500,000 of the estate are 3 per cent, then on the remainder 1.5 per cent.'
Midland Bank offers its services to all customers. A spokesman emphasised that not all estates needed a professional executor like a bank or solicitor to sort them out. He said: 'If an estate is straightforward, perhaps a house and a few shares, a member of the family may easily be able to do it.'
Midland charges a minimum fee of pounds 1,500 plus VAT. The charges are based on the complexity of the estate. For a simple estate the fee is 4 per cent plus VAT.
National Westminster Bank charges 5 per cent plus VAT on the first pounds 75,000 of an estate, 3 per cent on the next pounds 50,000 and 2 per cent on anything over pounds 125,000.
Barclays Bank offers its executorship services to all customers. It has a complicated fee structure. There is a responsibility fee of pounds 500, plus 2.5 per cent of the first pounds 250,000 of the estate. Thereafter it is 1.5 per cent of the remaining value of the estate. There is then an activity fee of pounds 265 for every beneficiary and pounds 50 for every asset.