2017: A Wills and Probate Year in Review

Whilst there will always be changes which affect the Wills and Probate profession, 2017 seemed to produce more than most.

From the introduction of the Residence Nil-Rate Band to the calls to bring Will law up to date, a lot happened last year, with the impact of these changes ongoing.

Though we may have finished the mince pies and toasted the new year, below we take a look at some of the most significant reports we published last year, considering their impact for professionals as well as how they could progress into 2018.

January saw the Solicitors Regulation Authority confirm the release of price publication rules, following the report from the Competitions and Markets Authority. According to the authority, regulators should do more satisfy unmet demand for certain legal services, with will writing being highlighted as an area of initial requirement. The subsequent proposals put forward by the SRA, aiming to enable clients to make more informed choices, were rejected by the Law Society, who contested that they would create more confusion.

The regulator is now in the process of analysing the responses they received to the consultation which closed on the 20th of December.

In March, proposals were put forward by the Ministry of Justice to reform the current probate fee structure by introducing a sliding scale, correspondent to the value of the estate. The suggested change would have meant the most valuable estates could have had to pay £20,000 in order to obtain the grant of probate. The funds obtained from the fees were to be used to fund the courts and tribunal service, at an expected total of around £250 million per annum. In April, the legal basis of the rise was put under scrutiny following a challenge from a parliamentary committee – they claimed that the Lord Chancellor could be overstepping her powers given that the proposals bore the hallmarks of an estate tax. However, in the run-up to June’s snap election, these plans were put on hold; it is yet unclear whether they will be brought into effect in future.

The third month of the year also saw the Supreme Court allow the charities’ appeal in the long-running Ilott v Mitson case, with the judges reaching a unanimous decision. Having originally successfully appealed the will she was left out of by her mother, Heather Ilott returned to try an obtain a greater share of the estate. However, the charities’ took the case to the Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn the Appeal Court’s decision.

On the 6 April, the Residence Nil Rate Band was introduced, meaning that those who intend to pass on their main property to direct descendants will have an extra inheritance allowance of £175,000 in 2020/21.  At present, it stands at £100,000, gradually increasing by £25,000 annually.

In July, the Law Commission called for the law surrounding wills to be brought into the “modern world”, with the organisation suggesting that the level of formality should be diluted. Having received a significant amount of responses from both the public and professionals, the suggestions are now being analysed.

Following an eventful year, it will be interesting to see the results of the SRA and Law Commission proposals, as well as the reaction from the profession. Here at Today’s Wills and Probate, we’re looking forward to seeing what 2018 will bring.

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