Despite resistance from Lawyers who specialise in Wills and Probate, the government still plan to plough on with proposals to increase the Probate Court Fee for applications for probate. When someone dies, their assets become frozen and it is the responsibility of the executors named in the Will (or administrators if there is no Will) to apply for a grant of representation. This process is more commonly referred to as probate. The grant of representation is an authority from the Court for the personal representatives to administer the estate. It is the document that the banks/building societies/ shares registrars etc are looking for to enable them to close the accounts and release the funds.

The fee is currently £155 where a solicitor makes the application and £215 for personal applications. There is no fee if an estate is worth under £5,000. The Government is proposing to nearly double that fee for estates worth £50,000- £300,000 to £300. For estates worth over £300,000 they suggest that you should now pay a fee of £1,000 for a Grant of Probate. Estates over £500,000 will pay £4,000.00. For estates worth over £2,000,000 the fees will now be £20,000! The effect is to increase the fees payable on 42% of all estates varying between an increase of 2 to 129 times the current amount. The fees will apply irrespective of who inherits the estate, unlike inheritance tax. So widows and charities will pay under the new regime.

It is difficult to understand the justification for the new fees as there is no difference in the amount of work that the Probate Registry will have to undertake to process a Grant for £200,000 or £800,000 and yet the fees will be £3,700 more. The Probate Registry’s most expensive fee will be 66 times its cheapest fee. By comparison, the Land Registry’s most expensive fee for registering an unregistered property is only 22 times more expensive than its cheapest fee. This is, therefore, just another form of death duty. The Government have promised investment into the Court system and it is thought that the increase in revenue will be used towards this.

One problem with the increase, however, is that like Inheritance tax, it will need paying upfront. The government’s paper mentions the fact that executors or beneficiaries may have to loan the estate the money necessary to pay the fees. This is commonly the case now, but of course loaning £155 is totally different to loaning £4,000. We believe that this will result in real hardship, particularly where people are asset rich but cash poor.

Donna Bothamley, a partner at Blythe Liggins and who is also a member of Solicitors for the Elderly has confirmed that Solicitors have not yet given up hope. “A number of us are writing to our local MPs to try and encourage a rethink” she said. “It is certainly not in the best interests of our clients to support such a huge increase”.

Caption: Donna Bothamley, Partner. Head of the Wills & Probate Department.

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