Probate – A Statistical Analysis

 In Probate

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Each year the Probate Service compiles a statistical summary of its main activity, the issuing of grants of representation in England and Wales. Figures for 2009 have recently been released and this allows probate practitioners to understand the legal sector in a wider context.

Winchester continues to lead the way

As most readers will know, probate registries do not have mandatory catchment areas. For example, if a deceased person was resident and died in Avon or Somerset, it is not necessary for a grant of representation to the estate be taken out at Bristol District Probate Registry ; the personal representatives (PRs) could elect to extract the grant in, say, Newcastle if they so choose (for instance, if they themselves lived on Tyneside). Of course, the majority of estates are dealt with locally and this means that, to a greater or lesser degree, activity at District Probate Registries (DPRs) does reflect the population of their region. This is one reason why the Probate Registry of Wales shows a lower level of activity than some of the DPRs in parts of England.

In contrast to this however, Winchester continues to issue a greater proportion of grants extracted by solicitors at 15%. This shows that Winchester’s reputation for being efficient and helpful, particularly for more complex transactions (such as reseals) continues to be high amongst probate practitioners who have repeat business.

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Rate of Intestacy

The death statistics for 2009 show a decrease in the death rate of 3.49% with 491,348 deaths registered compared with 509,090 in 2008. 196,245 grants of probate were extracted and 57,919 letters of administration. Adding in the 237,184 apparently intestate estates where no grant was extracted reveals a total of 295,103 intestate deaths. In percentage terms, we have for 2009 40% of deaths being testate and 60% intestate, almost identical to 2008 (where the split was 39/61 testate to intestate). This continues the previous trend of a slow increase in the rate of will making.

Personal v Solicitor applications

As in each year since 2007, the number of grant applications made by solicitors fell. In 2009 this figure fell by 9% to 165,000, which although a slightly smaller decrease from 2008 (when the decline was 10%) must still be a cause of concern, particularly given the 4% increase in personal applications which continues the slow but steady trend in this regard. This figure includes solicitors in private practice, and those employed by organisations such as trust corporations or banks.

The total number of grants extracted can be expected to have fallen overall, given the drop in the death rate as mentioned above. The percentage decrease in solicitor applications can be attributed to a number of reasons, including the recession which will almost certainly have encouraged consumers to attempt probate themselves, but the entry into the market place of the new players such as Co-op and ITC still does not yet appear to have made the major impact as some might have expected.

Further evidence towards the DIY approach can be found in the fact that 237,184 of the deaths registered in 2009 did not result in a grant application of any kind. Obviously a high proportion of these would not have required a grant due to being a modest estate or left mostly in joint names to surviving spouses for example, but how many of these estates has been dealt with by a well meaning family member, but resulted in mal-administration of some kind either through mis-distribution or avoidance of IHT?


The 2009 statistics show a continuing decline in solicitor applications for grants, only part of which can be attributed to the lower death rate. This continues to suggest that consumers are not just deserting the traditional high street practitioner, but that they may not be gravitating towards the new entrants to the market place. When the 2010 figures are published next year can we expect to see the decline in solicitor applications continue, or will the marketing by solicitors have recaptured some of the market?

The latest statistics from the Probate Service highlights the importance of marketing within the legal sector. Alastair Moyes of Market Law views probate as being a valuable access point to legal services, click here to find out more.

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