Recent research from the UK confirms what many of us have known for some time: The estates administration process in Australia and the UK is paper-heavy, slow and inefficient and is causing stress, frustration, and even mental health issues for those involved.
In a recent annual Bereavement Index 2021, looking at the legal and financial responsibilities that come with administering deceased estates, UK research has discovered that 88 per cent of legal professionals think the probate process is too slow and inefficient.
With the world becoming a more digitalised place and organisations having to adapt to remote working, it’s difficult to understand how a process surrounding something as inevitable as death is still so far behind in efficiency.
Don’t shoot the messenger – or blame the lawyers
The ongoing pandemic has certainly not assisted matters. Response times – especially from financial institutions – are increasingly long.
Australia Post currently states that “COVID-19 is having a higher than usual impact right now” and domestic mail delivery times have blown out to “6 business days”.
In actuality, with weekends taken into account, it typically can take 2 weeks to receive a letter from the time it is posted in one Australian capital city until it is received in another.
Longer time delays can be expected for rural and regional locations, or surrounding public holidays, or if packages are involved.
And that delay is generally duplicated IE 2 weeks to arrive at the institution AND 2 weeks to be received from the institution. And that is only the delay once the article has actually been posted.
Most of the delay occurs inside the institution, where manual procession of the correspondence must occur.
In Australia, some of the Big 4 banks (ANZ we’re looking at you) are routinely taking 6-8 weeks to answer simple correspondence.
The UK research reveals:
- in 80 per cent of probate cases handled by legal professionals, at least ten letters are required to be sent;
- in 33 per cent of cases require up to 50 letters to be sent;
- in 10 per cent of cases requires over 50 letters are required to be sent.
These statistics explain why most probate cases can take up to six months to complete. This represents a huge volume of manual and paper-driven effort.
From the UK research, the top reason for delay in probate cases is due to delayed responses from institutions. The largely paper-based and manual-handling of this essential information causes these lengthy delays.
In this age of social distancing and remote working, more activities are being moved online, so why do some institutions (especially financial organisations) still insist upon paper-based correspondence and wet-ink signatures, when the response time is much longer than if communications were digital?
Surely technology offers solutions for many of these inefficiencies? Why they don’t embrace modern efficient business methods, like eSignatures and online smartforms?
In many cases, it is because large institutions (like banks) are very risk-averse, meaning they don’t like exposing themselves to the risk of criticism, unfavourable publicity, Government sanctions or litigation.
Transitioning to electronic data and online forms requires a system-wide commitment from the institution, which costs time, staff, resources and money.
There are also a host of government regulations surrounding data security, verification of identity, privacy, confidentiality, anti-money laundering, proof of capacity, access to justice and anti-discrimination.
Complying with all these (sometimes conflicting) requirements – which can vary from state to state and from time to time – is not easy.
Sometimes, organisations take the approach that they won’t become an ‘early-adopter’ of technological solutions, and will wait to let others sort-out the teething issues before jumping on-board with a new way of doing things.
However, we may be approaching a tipping-point. With so many government departments and private businesses discovering the benefits (and savings) of modern business methods, here’s hoping that unnecessary delays and bureaucratic frustrations will soon be a thing of the past.
Estate administration can get complicated quickly and hiring a professional can save time, stress, cost and risk-exposure both to the estate and the Executor.
A lawyer specialising in Probate and the administration of deceased estates should be appointed to assist the Executor.
Genders and Partners is the oldest law firm in South Australia, established 1848. Contact us to learn how to protect yourself, your family and your assets by assisting you to administer a deceased estate, by visiting our website today and schedule a free no obligation telephone consultation to find out how we can help you and yours.
Remember – any mistakes you make in administering a deceased estate won’t become apparent until after it’s too late for you to fix them. Get proper advice, and do it right.
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