Francis Bacon famously said that "money is a great servant but a bad master" and over the years this quote has been adapted to fit with the truth of technology; it truly is a great servant but as a master is likely to have significant failings.
This is nowhere truer than the legal services market, where technological innovation works to simplify processes and reduce costs. Technology is undoubtedly to the benefit of the user, but when it only serves to frustrate human interaction and to create a feeling of helplessness and automation, it is not the assistance one would hope for.
Probate is an area of legal services provision where technological solutions to practical problems are at last beginning to make their presence felt after a long period of uninterrupted fustiness. However, these are not always for the better.
For example, recent statistics show us that the rate of inheritance disputes heard in the High Court rose from 227 in 2018 to 368 in 2019. One plausible explanation for this is the advent of DIY wills, which are frequently made online and, unfortunately, have a tendency to contain mistakes, contradictions, omissions and in some cases may not be properly witnessed.
Furthermore, these online Wills are coming at a time when the traditional family unit is being superseded by more complex structures, often made up of stepchildren, stepparents, same-sex couples and more.
This is not to say that online and DIY Wills are inherently bad, simply that all Wills, whether they are drawn up at home, online or indeed in London's hallowed Inner Temple, should be first fully checked over by a probate solicitor and second, suitably witnessed by appropriate impartial individuals.
Law Society president Christina Blacklaws certainly thinks so, "With the range of different estates and circumstances that exist, it is vitally important people consult a professional when writing their will," she told the Law Society Gazette. "Probate law is complex and DIY wills can easily contain mistakes which render them illegitimate or difficult to administer."
HMTCS's Scanning System
Another area where technology is not always proving successful relates to HM Courts and Tribunals Service's (HMCTS) outsourced Will-scanning system. This is performed by a company called Exela, and is said to prevent the need for Executors to visit a probate registry or solicitor's office in order to file declarations and documents, instead replacing the process with an online sworn statement of truth.
Unfortunately, the transition has not been as smooth as it might; the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU) has criticised the new system, saying that it slows the process, creates too much room for fraud and increases the error rate by as much as 74 per cent.
PCSU commented, "The scan quality of the wills being uploaded is insufficient for examination. Our members are being required to make decisions based on a document they cannot see and on information provided by the inexperienced staff of a private company who will have targets related to profit".
Teething problems related to both DIY Wills and the HMCTS Will-scanning system show us that although technological innovation is to be welcomed in the Wills and probate legal services market, it must always be accompanied by the two cornerstones of quality legal service: attention to detail and considered human interaction.
Where technology can simplify processes and reduce costs it must be embraced, but where technology alone does not suffice, it must be supported by qualified humans.
When it comes to technological solutions or human solutions it is not an "either-or" situation. Furthermore, when it comes to probate legal services, the key is to make technology the servant rather than the master and to utilise it to enable the probate solicitor rather than hinder.
And to help the client, Oratto's probate price calculator is one piece of technology that is a definite positive in the probate process. By simply filling in a few details online, the Oratto tool will provide a range of fixed-fee probate quotes within minutes, giving the client the opportunity to compare prices for probate services in the same way that they might compare car insurance quotes or energy deals.