England & Wales Probate Fee Reform

Friday 9th November 2018

The government are set to bring in the proposed reforms to the probate application fees in estates in England and Wales originally suggested in 2017. 

The new fees will replace the current £215 flat fee (for people who apply directly to the Court without using a solicitor) with charges being based on the value of the estate.  The new fee structure will be as follows:-

£750 for estates between £300,000 – £500,000

£2,500 for estates between £500,000 – £1 million

£4,000 for estates between £1 million – £1.6 million

£5,000 for estates between £1.6 million – £2 million

£6,000 maximum cap for estates over £2 million

Junior Justice Minister Lucy Frazer explained that with the new system, people with an estate of less than £50,000 will not pay a fee at all and this will take 25,000 estates out of the fee system per year.  In addition, she explained that the majority (80%) of people will pay the sum of £750.00 being the lowest fee on the structure.  However, this is still a 249% increase on the current flat fee.

The new charges bear no relation to the actual costs of providing the service. The government is insisting that it is acting within its powers but this has been disputed by organisations such as the Society for Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). The CEO of STEP stated the charges were a back door form of taxation.

There have also been suggestions from the legal profession that the fee scale could tempt people to try and pass their estates without a grant of probate leading to a reduction in inheritance tax receipts.

There is also speculation that individuals could move away from using wills and instead pass on their estates through lifetime gifts or survivorship rules, under which property is automatically passed on death and the property value is excluded from the value of the estate.  While this can be very effective, there are potential consequences such as inequality between children which could give rise to claims against estates.  In addition, this may not necessarily be the Deceased’s wishes.

It may be possible for the probate fee to be paid from the Deceased’s bank accounts prior to the Grant of Probate being issued.  However, if the estate has significant property and little cash, the Courts could look to the Executors personally to pay this fee.  The government are set to introduce guidelines as to how to pay the fee nearer the implementation date of April 2019.