Losing a close friend or family member is traumatic in any circumstance. However, it is when the bureaucracy of death takes over, becoming a complicated and time-consuming burden, that things can seem particularly difficult, preventing those concerned from being able to grieve fully and without interruption.
From obtaining medical certificates to organising funerals and registering deaths, there are so many practical matters to attend to that handling the death of a loved one can begin to feel more like an administrative hurdle to overcome than the end of a precious life.
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.
The probate process can be complicated, stressful and protracted; with the time it takes to complete the administration largely dependent on the size and complexity of the estate. However, in cases where there may be doubts about the integrity or legality of a Will or how the process is being handled, things can quickly become even more fraught.
Losing a family member or other loved one is an inherently emotional time and, for many, this can lead to feelings of extreme reticence when dealing with the deceased's affairs, even when there might be strong grounds for challenging probate. Fortunately, with the help of an experienced and sensitive contested probate solicitor to provide advice and guidance, challenging probate need not be an insurmountable task.
In 2019 insurance company Direct Line released details of a survey which claimed that as many as one in four of us would be prepared to dispute a Will or contest probate.
The survey, carried out in July 2018 across the UK, found that residents of Southampton, Norwich and London were the most likely to contest probate or dispute a Will in the event they were unhappy.
Furthermore, the insurer outlined how in 2017 there was a six percent rise in the number of contested probate claims and how the number of such cases reaching the High Court had reached a record high. In fact, the same year saw 8,000 attempts to block Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration because of some issue regarding the validity of a Will.
It would be tempting to simplify the government's description of the new probate charges as a 'fee' rather than a 'tax' as being a clear example of a misnomer. But this would fail to address the basic problem with this choice of words and by failing to admit, at least publicly, that the new fee scheme is a tax, the government is entering dangerous or perhaps even Orwellian territory.
There is nothing trifling about death and taxes, and the government knows this; after all, the new fee regime is predicted to raise around £155 million a year for the court coffers. But, perhaps the worst of this is that it goes against the very basic ethos of the conservative party and it is, in fact, more akin to socialist wealth redistribution. One is tempted to wonder whether the government fails to know its own mind or is simply in danger of evading the truth.