The Law Society has welcomed the introduction of a new online probate application system - but warned the government that it must not open avenues to fraud.

HM Courts and Tribunals Service said yesterday that the service was now accepting online probate applications from personal applicants.

The government says going online removes the need for people to swear an oath in person and provides an option to pay a fee online rather than by cheque. The new service will also allow applicants to start an application and save and exit it before returning to it.

Ian Bond, chair of the Law Society’s wills and equity committee said the ‘positive’ moves are a good example of how technology can make the court system easier and quicker for the public to navigate, without jeopardising access to justice.

However, he said HMCTS must take care to ensure that online probate applications do not become an avenue either for fraud or for taking advantage of vulnerable clients.

’Our expert committees have and will continue to emphasise this as they engage with HMCTS about this system,’ he added.

As it stands, online applications will be applicable when:

  • Only one executor is applying.
  • An original will is available and the person who died did not leave a codicil.
  • The person who has died classed England and Wales as their permanent home or intended to return to England and Wales to live permanently.

HMCTS said the form will ‘continue to be developed to cover a broader range of probate applications in the future’.

Esther Woodhouse, probate specialist at Roythornes Solicitors, called for measures to be put in place to protect vulnerable people and their estates and said it may not be possible to carry out the process entirely online.

She said: 'Requesting certified identification will assist in establishing whether applicants, or those doing so on a vulnerable person’s behalf, have the authority to continue with the process. The capacity and/or vulnerability of an applicant will also need to be investigated further, which I hope the court will not ignore, and perhaps interact personally with applicants.'

She added: 'Unfortunately, we live in a society where rogues will do their best to cheat the best of systems, for example the Land Registry site has frequently fallen victim to fraudsters pretending to be the vendors of registered properties. The court needs to be fully aware of all risks and react quickly if it is alerted to any online probate-misdemeanours to ensure the safety and protection of vulnerable applicants.'

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