Back in 2017 we covered the proposed rise in probate fees which was subsequently abandoned when the general election was called. The current probate fee is a flat fee of £215 or £155 if the probate application is made via a solicitor.
In November 2018, the Government brought before Parliament proposed legislation which if approved, will introduce a new banded structure of fees, tiered according to the size of the deceased’s estate as set out below: –
· Up to £50,000: no charge
· £50,000- £300,000: £250
· £300,000- £500,000: £750
· £500,000 to £1m: £2,500
· £1m to £1.6m: £4,000
· £1.6m- £2m: £5,000
· Above £2m: £6,000.
Whilst there are significant increases for the larger estates, (although not up to as much as the £20,000 previously proposed), it is estimated that 80% of estates will not pay more than £750 and fewer estates will be liable because the probate fee threshold will rise from £5,000 to £50,000 which should exempt about 25,000 estates every year. The additional income raised, estimated to be £145m, is to be invested in the Courts and Tribunal Service and will be used to fund improvements to the Probate Service. This includes the ability to apply for a grant of probate online. Interestingly, a separate statutory instrument has been issued to introduce this online application process and will lead to an administrative cost per application of only £9.30.
However, as the probate process is broadly similar regardless of the size of the estate, it could be argued that the new fees represent a stealth tax on property as property is normally the main constituent of the estate. Indeed, a House of Lords committee has reiterated this and is concerned that the proposals will lead to a move away from ‘the principle that fees for a public service should recover the cost of providing it and no more’. Executors may find themselves having to find the required fees themselves where estates are relatively illiquid, while professional executors may raise their fees to cover this.
Charities will also be adversely affected as they are not exempt from probate fees. It is estimated that they could lose about £10m a year of legacy income and so there will be lobbying for a relevant exemption to be introduced.
The Government are hoping to have the legislation through Parliament by April next year and if it is agreed, it will clearly be important to ensure that funds are available to your executors to pay the fees. This can be easier said than done and particularly as these have to be paid before any of the assets can be distributed. This is something that we can discuss during our meetings and incorporate into your financial plan.