Leading firm of genealogists and international probate researchers Fraser and Fraser has called for clarity regarding Ministry of Justice (MoJ) plans for a restructured wills notification service.

HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) announced in January that it would be ending its association with private company Smee & Ford (S&F), which for over 50 years has been providing a paid-for service to participating charities alerting them when they have been left money in a will.

HMCTS stated the decision was made following an assessment of its legal position.

It added that it intended to continue to work with S&F: “To ensure that there is as little disruption as possible arising out of these changes over the six months’ notice period.”

Meanwhile, it created a working group to share ideas about possible future solutions. Organisations invited to contribute were the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo), the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the Institute of Fundraising (IoF) and the Institute of Legacy Management (ILM).

However, the Law Society has expressed disappointment that solicitors were not involved in the process, while several charities have voiced their anxiety at the slow pace of progress.

Speaking at this month’s ILM conference, Ed Owen, director of communications at HMCTS, also appeared unable to cast much light on specific plans either short- or long-term.

“We hope you’ll get the same information and service in the interim and that you’ll barely notice a difference,” he said.

Commenting on the current situation, Fraser and Fraser partner Neil Fraser said: “The clock is ticking and charities are understandably concerned. They could be looking at losing out on millions of pounds’ worth of funds if a system is not in place by the end of July.

“Charities could be left with huge holes in their finances and a wide range of good causes could miss out on the money they’re relying on, especially in the short term.

“Organisations across the sector need HMCTS to deliver a solution, and one that confirms with legal obligations, in what is now a relatively short time period.”

According to figures from the Law Society, S&F reads around 5,000 wills per week, before informing charities of relevant bequests.

HMCTS states that more than 122,000 charitable bequests were included in wills in 2017 alone, with legacy donations raising 2.96 billion for good causes that year. The average cash amount donated via a will is £3,300.