Exploring ‘death tech’ and its advantages with Mike Davis, Founder of My Probate Partner

In this Q&A, Mike Davis, Founder of My Probate Partner, discusses Deathtech, his business, My Probate Partner, and the the role technology has played in handling probate cases.

Mike Davis, Founder of My Probate PartnerCan you explain what probate is?

‘Probate’ is the term generally used to describe the process of dealing with someone’s financial, legal and tax affairs after their death. Specifically, around 50% of deaths will need special paperwork provided by a court to deal with certain assets, this paperwork is known by a few names, including a ‘Grant of Probate’.  

What is the role of My Probate Partner and why was it created?

My Probate Partner provides an alternative, cost-effective way to do probate that allows individuals to stay in control of the process, without needing to spend lots of time learning about how it works – whilst also saving money. We help people navigate the administrative process after someone dies, without using expensive solicitors. Our paid-for services help people with the court application which is required in around 50% of deaths and is almost impossible to do in Scotland without professional help.   

How does your platform work? Why is it different to other probate services?

Our platform shares the knowledge on how to navigate the administrative process after someone dies to help people avoid the many pitfalls. We only charge a fee for specialist services to help people through the impenetrable Scottish court probate process (officially called ‘Confirmation’ in Scotland). This is very different to a full ‘concierge’ service offered by traditional law firms which will take over the whole process and often charge a small fortune for the convenience.

In what ways has technology improved the efficiency and effectiveness of handling probate cases?

It’s still early days for technical advances in probate, but there are a growing number of companies trying to make a difference in a process that will affect 50% of people at some stage in their lives. For us, technology allows us to offer our services online and be a fully remote company, leading to very quick turnaround times and low costs.   

Unfortunately, there is only so much companies like us can do. In order to see the sort of radical change we think is necessary to simplify things for bereaved families, it would require the government, courts and financial organisations to come together as key stakeholders and redesign the whole process.  

What are some of the common challenges during probate and what role has technology played in addressing them?

Very few is the unfortunate answer. The probate industry is still years behind other sectors that have embraced technology. It’s partly to do with the nature of the process, as one of the biggest challenges is having to communicate with lots of organisations. Some companies are trying to build hubs for communicating with multiple organisations from centralised dashboards on their platforms. 

Pretty much all of the technology companies serving the industry focus on trying to make law firms more efficient. These platforms generally focus on keeping cases organised and reducing mundane tasks, like filling in forms and producing letters.  

What is the difference between probate in Scotland and the rest of the UK?  

In Scotland, probate is officially called ‘Confirmation’, and is processed by the local Sheriff Court (as opposed to a centralised ‘Probate Registry’). There are a few technical differences, but in reality, they have the same function: to give the person named in a Will the authority to deal with the assets that require probate (or the next of kin where there is no Will).   

The English process was updated in 2019 to include a new and relatively easy-to-use online platform, however, the Scottish process remains paper-based and requires antiquated language and specific formatting that is not made clear to the applicant.  

Why do you think Scotland has not already streamlined the probate process? Do you think Scotland needs to do more in terms of embracing death tech?

It’s on the court’s list of things that need to be done, but it requires coordination with HMRC, and because it is an issue that only affects people maybe once or twice, it doesn’t seem to be considered a priority. Due to there being so many stakeholders in the process, upgrading it on the scale necessary would be a very complicated task.  

Do death tech platforms and services such as My Probate Partner provide as personalised a service as a solicitor? Is there a concern it may ‘de-humanise’ the process?

The majority of our customers are already trying to do this process on their own, when they come across us. In the past, they would either end up in a seemingly endless loop with the court, or unwillingly needing to use a solicitor. Our service is providing a very specific need, and we have an enhanced service for people that want a bit of extra hand holding. For people that need more, there will always be law firms offering a more involved service if they are willing to pay for it.  

What are the common misconceptions you encounter regarding probate and the use of death tech?

The biggest misconception is that you need to use a solicitor for probate, but it’s perfectly acceptable to do it yourself. The second biggest misconception is that you need to use the solicitor who made the Will; it’s not uncommon for solicitors to even write themselves in as executors, but the family can request that they resign.  

Another big misconception is that when the first spouse in a couple dies, then everything passes automatically to the survivor. Unless it was planned and every account is in joint names, and there is no property, this is unlikely to be the case. In a lot of cases people are very surprised to find out they need to go through the court probate process, and potentially hire professional help to get them through it.   

It shouldn’t be this way, as the last thing anyone needs when grieving a death is to be presented with an overly administrative and bureaucratic process, that they’ve never even heard of.