jdoe wrote:... Why is a death certificate and a legal will alone not adequate justification for my spouse's shares to be transferred into my name or for land registry to update our house title?
Imagine that the system worked that way. Each of the banks, brokers, land registry, etc, would of course want to convince themselves that the will does indeed leave the assets to you before releasing them to you, since releasing them to the wrong person would be a very expensive mistake for them. So they'll want copies of the will as well as supporting documentation such as marriage certificates. And the vast majority of wills are multi-page documents which require at least a bit of work to ensure one has understood them correctly (*), that they'll doubtless want to charge a fee for...
So the situation you'd get would basically be that you would need to assemble a 'probate application package' for each of those banks, brokers, etc, rather than just one for HMRC. And they would all be duplicating each others' work verifying that you are the legitimate new owner of the assets - and if there was any query that needed answering in the process, you would probably get N different versions of that query to answer... It could all end up being considerably more work and expense than probate - even for the very simple case of one spouse leaving everything to the other, unless 'everything' includes just one asset not held jointly.
(*) Even wills that leave everything to the other spouse generally need to have alternative clauses for what happens if the other spouse dies first, so aren't all that simple.
jdoe wrote:Sight of the death certificate alone has been enough for the banks to update our joint accounts into my single name ...
The difference there is that you are already the legal owner of the asset. All that the banks, etc, need to establish is that its other owner no longer owns it, and that just requires proof of their death. When the assets aren't jointly held, you're not already the legal owner of the asset, the banks need not only proof of the other owner's death, but also proof that you are entitled to become the asset's legal owner.
jdoe wrote:... and not even that has been necessary to change the name on utility bills. Likewise things like Amazon and Netflix accounts have been easily transferred into my name, online.
Those are liabilities, not assets, and the banks, etc, won't get into trouble because the 'wrong' person takes on the responsibility for paying them - whereas they definitely can get into trouble if they hand an asset over to the wrong person.
Avantegarde wrote:I am no expert but, based on observing the probate procedure for my late father's estate, I think the answer is simple: it is to stop inheritors or executors lying through their teeth, and doing a bunk with the assets they have gathered from the estate of the deceased, before paying tax they should have paid.
That's doubtless another reason for having probate besides the one I indicate above - i.e. doing the job of establishing the right to inherit assets once centrally, rather than N times in N different institutions. But note that probate doesn't stop inheritors gathering assets and doing a bunk with them if the assets are held jointly - and since assets can be held jointly by people who are not each other's spouses, that bunk might be done without paying tax that should have been paid. So while probate does indeed help to stop such behaviour, it doesn't do that job perfectly...