Probate fee rise: Expert opinion

Due to be implemented in May 2017, the introduction of higher probate fees is looming.

Rising from the current blanket fee of either £155 or £215, the new plans involve the cost of obtaining either a grant of representation or grant of probate growing in line with the value of the individual estate. Starting at £300 for estates worth over £50,000, the cut off will be for estates worth in excess of £2 million, with the fee reaching £20,000.

The Ministry of Justice subsequently confirmed that the proposals would go ahead, despite the criticism they received, with the additional funds going towards the courts and tribunals service.

However, this did not discourage further scrutiny, this time from a joint committee on statutory instruments who questioned the legal basis of the extra charges. Given that the fees would be “for the purpose of funding service which executors do not seek to use”, the committee doubted that they were appropriate, as well as questioning whether the Lord Chancellor would be acting within her powers.

They also brought attention to the disproportionate nature of the charges, given that the process and cost to the probate registry is the same for all applications.

Sharing this stance was Clive Ponder. The Director of Countrywide Tax & Trust Corporation commented on the government’s selective approach to criticism, as well as questioning whether the Ministry of Justice considered any of the criticism which it received.

“The Government and MPs are continually criticising businesses if their charges do not reflect the work done. Yet they seem to have the opinion that in the government’s case they can charge whatever they choose without any reference to the work involved.

“I am pleased that even some MP’s are embarrassed by the Justice Departments stance on this issue. Perhaps they may take some notice of their fellow MPs as it appears that the Justice Department certainly took no notice of any respondents to the consultation that took place on this issue.

“How any organisation can announce an increase of circa 10,000% in charges and attempt to justify it I do not know.”

Also questioning whether the scrutiny had received real consideration was Andrew Hasnip, Partner at the Wilkes Partnership LLP. Commenting on the lack of clarity as to whether the proposals would be implemented, Mr Hasnip also advised that the best option for clients is to seek legal advice.

“Whilst the report of the committee is welcome the MoJ have not yet said the proposed rises will be delayed or revised. Therefore, anyone dealing with an estate where a Probate has not yet been granted should seek legal advice on whether an application can be made before 1st May to qualify for the current Court fee of £155 rather than risk an application after 1st May when the new fees are due to come into effect.”

 

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