Controversial changes to the probate fee which were due to come into place next year have been scrapped.
It was announced this week that Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has reversed the plans introduced by Theresa May to change the way in which probate fees are charged.
This decision comes in the wake of campaigning from several groups, including the Law Society, to stop fee changes due to them being “inherently unfair”.
The changes would have seen some grieving families paying up to £6,000 for grants of probate.
What is probate?
Probate is the entire legal process for dealing with the estate of someone who has died. An estate relates to the money and property of the deceased. It involves organising the deceased’s money, their assets, their possessions and then distributing them as inheritance.
If the deceased left a will, they may have specified an executor or executors. These are people who are expected to “execute” the will. An executor has the responsibility to carry out the deceased’s wishes, as written down in their will.
Before an executor starts the process, they must apply for a Grant of Probate. This is a legal document that gives them the authority to deal with the deceased’s estate.
Once all taxes and debts have been paid, and everything has been distributed according to the deceased’s will, the process ends.
| What is Probate? |
What is the current probate fee?
Whenever someone applies for probate, there is an application fee that is payable. This fee works like so:
- If the deceased’s estate is worth less than £5,000 there is no fee
- If the estate is worth over £5,000 there is a flat rate of £215 for applications made by an individual; or
- £155 for applications made by a probate solicitor
What were the proposed changes?
The Government announced it was changing the structure of the probate fee in November 2018. The plan was to scrap the flat rate of £215 and begin a sliding scale, dependent on how much the estate was worth.
The fee for estates worth less than £50,000 was to be scrapped altogether, which was relatively good news. This would exempt 25,000 estates annually from fees.
However, the decisive change was in relation to estates above this threshold. Estates valued between £50,000 to £300,000 would be charged £250, going up to a maximum of £6,000 for estates worth more than £2 million.
The Ministry of Justice had been forecast to receive an extra £185m a year by virtue of the changes by 2022/23. It will now review probate charges as part of an annual assessment of fees charged for all proceedings in civil and family courts.
Why have the fee changes been scrapped?
The Government’s U-turn on the probate fee hike comes after widespread criticism from industry experts. Many were calling the changes to the probate fee a “stealth tax” or a “death tax”, due to the fact the changes didn't reflect actual administration costs.
This was demonstrated by the Office for National Statistics who said that it expected to treat the charges as a tax in its evaluation of the UK’s finances.
President of the Law Society, Simon Davis, said:
A hike in probate fees would have been a tax on grief. We campaigned vigorously against the increase on behalf of bereaved families and are relieved the government has listened to reason.
Elaine Roche, director of Solicitors for the Elderly, commented:
We are delighted to hear the proposed probate fees have been dropped.
It was very clear from the offset that the new system was nothing more than a stealth tax and that Government had abused its powers in pushing them through under the guise of a fee.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson stated:
Fees are necessary to properly fund our world-leading courts system, but we have listened carefully to concerns around changes to those charged for probate and will look at them again as part of a wider review to make sure all fees are fair and proportionate.
What happens to probate fees now?
For the time being, the probate fees will remain exactly the same. Ministers have, however, ordered a wider review of court fees.
According to This is Money, a Government source stated that these fees are reviewed annually, but only small adjustments to cover their costs are on the cards.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said:
While fees are necessary to properly fund our world-leading courts system, they must be fair and proportionate.
We will withdraw these proposals, and keep the current system while we take a closer look at these court fees as part of our annual wider review
Any plan to charge people thousands of pounds for the grant of probate has now been called off.
How can Percy Hughes & Roberts help?
At Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors, we have a team of dedicated probate solicitors who are ready to help you resolve your probate query or issue as quickly and effectively as possible.
If you need assistance obtaining a grant of probate or letter of administration, or simply want advice on dealing with the Probate Registry, our wills, trusts and probate solicitors have a wealth of experience. They can help you through what can be a difficult time, dealing with the complex estates.