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1. In September 2012, the Legal Services Board (LSB) issued its latest consultation concerning its intention to extend the list of reserved legal activities – activities that would come within its oversight responsibilities.  Among other services, the consultation considered 'the administration of an estate of a deceased person and legal activities provided ancillary to the administration of an estate'.  It included a provisional report that would recommend to the Lord Chancellor that estate administration and ancillary services should be reserved, although ancillary services provided separately from the core activity of estate administration would be outside the scope of reservation.

2. Some accountancy firms provide core estate administration services, for example when a member of the firm acts as executor of a deceased person's estate, and the firm charges a fee for the service.  In order to respond effectively to the LSB's consultation, ACCA sought to establish the extent to which the LSB's proposals might impact the public interest.  Therefore, in October 2012, ACCA conducted research to establish how many of its members in practice in England and Wales had recently performed core estate administration services. Members were asked the following question:

In the past five years, have you acted as an executor of a deceased person's estate with your firm charging for your services?

3. 871 responses were received, and almost one in ten (9.3%) said that they had acted as executor for a client in recent years. If this result is extrapolated to relate to all ACCA members in practice in England and Wales, we might conservatively estimate that 1,600 members and their clients would be affected by the Board's proposals.

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4. Of those who answered 'no' to the question above, many pointed out that they were currently named as executors in clients' wills, and that they intended changing for acting as such in due course. Therefore, it is not surprising that the comments provided by all respondents to the survey had similar themes.

5. Respondents repeatedly mentioned the benefits of the accountant's in-depth knowledge of the client, and the fact that the accountant is seen as a 'trusted adviser', due to the regular contact between them.

6. It was noted that accountants perform estate administration services well, and the perception among respondents was that accountants tend to charge lower fees than lawyers. Therefore, there was concern that, if accountants were no longer able to perform this work (or if regulatory costs made the work more expensive for clients), members of the public might be discouraged from seeking any professional help.  This would not be in the public interest.

7.One respondent pointed out that, if accountants could not charge a fee for acting as executors for deceased person's estates, the link between lawyers and accountants may be severed, and so lawyers might be inclined not to involve accountants in any aspect of estate administration. This was considered to be detrimental to the interests of the estate.

8. Generally, respondents expressed strong views, and even those who had not acted as executor in recent years expressed views that were consistent with those expressed by ACCA in previous consultation responses. Respondents frequently mentioned issues of choice, quality and costs in their responses.

9. The following comments from respondents are illustrative of the comments offered by many respondents to the survey:

'I believe it is completely inappropriate for this type of work to be reserved for legal practitioners. We are ideally placed to carry out this work and have a far better working knowledge of a deceased client's affairs than an unrelated lawyer. We are also named as professional executors in a large number of wills and I believe our clients will be dismayed if we are not able to fully accept the appointment.'

'I see no point in restricting this service to the legal profession. Restrict it to relevantly regulated professionals by all means but surely the requirements of the work are equally the province of a qualified accountant as that of a solicitor.'

Last updated: 7 Nov 2012