A welcome trickle of £5 notes into high street firms' cash-boxes may dry up if the government's latest plan to digitise legal services becomes reality. People applying online for probate will be able to make a 'digital statement of truth' rather than swearing in person at a solicitor's office or a probate registry, HM Courts and Tribunals Service has revealed. 

The online probate service, which has been under development since April 2016, is now undergoing six months of 'private beta tests', service manager Paul Downer reveals in an HMCTS blog post. 'We’re keen to make applying for probate as quick and easy for the approx. 280,000 applications we receive each year,' he states. 'We’re simplifying the language and the application process to reduce the pain points we’ve identified as part of our user research activities.' Changes will include modifications to the PA1 probate application form, he states. 

The initial release undergoing private testing is for simple cases, for example where only one executor has been named and an original will is available. 'In future we’ll include functionality for more "complex" applications eg multiple executors, intestacy cases etc. The new service will be updated during the testing phase in response to the user feedback,' Downer states. 

Users will be able to log in to save their progress and return to the application later, he said. This will meet the needs of users who are unable to focus on completing the applications or those who do not have all the information when they first start the application.

Research on the process found that personal applicants don't understand what is meant by ‘swearing of the oath’ which can add to their stress levels, Downer states. The online service will include a new digital statement of truth - a declaration made by the applicant that the information provided is true at the time of submission. The blog post does not state how users will sign the statement electronically, but the service is expected to adopt the Gov.UK Verify service, under which third parties authenticate individuals' online identities.