Probate fees: Who will be affected by the proposed increase?

The Government has announced changes to probate fees from April 2019 but what are these changes and how will they affect you?

What is probate?

When someone dies, the personal representatives of their estate step in to act. The personal representatives may be appointed directly under the Will – known as ‘executors’ – or they may be appointed as an ‘administrator’ under the rules of intestacy if there is no Will or if the said executors are not willing or able to act.

It is the personal representatives’ job to collect in all the assets in the estate, pay any debts and liabilities and then distribute the remainder of the estate under the terms of the Will or intestacy rules. In order to do this they need to prove that they have the authority to do so – this comes in the form of a ‘Grant of Probate’. It is this Grant which allows the executors to access funds in the deceased’s bank accounts and gives them the authority to sell any property belonging to the deceased.

To get a Grant of Probate you need to make an application to the Court and there is a fee for doing so.

What are the current probate fees?

  • £215 if you apply for probate yourself; or
  • £155 if you appoint a solicitor to make the application on your behalf.

The above fees are fixed, regardless of the size of the estate.

What will the new charges be?

The proposed probate fees will depend on how much the estate is worth – that is the value of everything in the deceased’s name at the date of death, including all cash assets, property, shares and investments. The proposed fees are as follows:

Value of the Estate

New Fee

Increase in fee from the old system

Up to £50,000

£0

(Saving of £215)

£50,000  -  £300,000

£250

£35

£300,000  -  £500,000

£750

£535

£500,000  -  £1m

£2,500

£2,285

£1m  -  £1.6m

£4,000

£3,785

£1.6m  -  £2m

£5,000

£4,785

More than £2m

£6,000

£5,785

Small estates of up to £50,000 will therefore be exempt from charges, but the fees increase for everyone else.

Who is responsible for paying this?

The probate court fee is classed as a debt of the estate, however the burden usually falls to the executors to pay this up front and then claim it back from the estate once the Grant has been received. With fees rising to a maximum of £6,000 this will be an excessive sum for the executors to be responsible for. The Ministry of Justice have promised further “guidance on ways to pay” but this has not yet been released. One proposed option could be for the banks to make the payment directly, as they have similar processes in place at the moment for the payment of Inheritance Tax and funeral bills. However, if there are not enough liquid assets in the bank and the bulk of the estate is tied up in property then the executors may end up having to take out a loan to cover this expense. They will not be refunded until the property is sold, months down the line.

What do the government say?

It is estimated that the fees will raise £145m for the Ministry of Justice in the next financial year and the government have said that these funds will be used to help improve the Court and Tribunal Service. However, The Law Society have described the probate fee increase as a ‘stealth tax’ and a way to increase the level of inheritance tax.

It has been reported that several legal bodies are preparing to lobby the government in relation to these reforms. The Law Society has been urging people to write to their local MPs to raise their concerns and object to the plans. So whether the changes do go ahead will remain to be seen. If approved, however, the new fees will be in place by April 2019 and we will wait to see what the proposed improvements to HMCTS are.

To discuss the proposed rise in probate fees, please contact our specialist team on 0113 201 4900 or email wills.probate@emsleys.co.uk.

Carrie Eckhardt

Written by

Carrie Eckhardt

Wills & Probate

Carrie is a trainee CILEx (Chartered Legal Executive) in our Wills & Probate team and will qualify as a CILEx in 2019 following completion of her training with the team.  Prior to joining the team in 2015, Carrie studied Biology at the University of York before completing her Law transfer (GDL and...

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