11 Nov 2019 11:54 AM

A year ago the government tabled proposals to increase the level of probate fees in England and Wales. The idea was to move from the current single fee approach (£155 via a solicitor or licensed accountant, £215 otherwise) to a sliding scale, based on estate value. For estates valued at over £2 million, the fee would have escalated to £6,000.

The proposals met with predictably heavy criticism, winning the distinction of being labelled a ‘new death tax’ in some parts of the press. Nevertheless, the government pushed ahead with draft legislation, aiming to launch the new fees from April 2019. One consequence was that solicitors or licensed accountants, and others acting as executors, rushed to submit probate documentation ahead of the anticipated fee increase.

As a backlog built up at probate offices and HMRC, everything went strangely quiet at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). For reasons which are not entirely clear, April passed without the final stage of the legislative process being triggered. This only encouraged more rushed submissions as the new deadline was unknown. The Law Society noted that many solicitors/licensed accountants and their clients were reporting a wait of much longer than the six to eight weeks timescale claimed by the MoJ for probate grants (in some cases six months). It did not help that, coincidentally, a new administrative system for probate was being rolled out in the first half of 2019.

What finally put an end to the proposals was the (second) prorogation of parliament, which meant that the legislation automatically lapsed. While it could have been reintroduced, Brexit and an impending election both provided reasons not to do so. Instead the MoJ will now undertake a wider review of court fees which will involve “small adjustments to cover costs”.

If you think that the whole saga sounds eerily like something that has happened before, you are right. In 2016 even higher increases in probate fees were proposed (up to £20,000), only to be abandoned in May 2017, just as the following month’s general election loomed into view.

Helpfully, the MoJ’s announcement has indirectly highlighted the importance of having a Will and the time it can take to transform its contents into reality. If you don’t have a Will – and over half of the adult population does not – your estate will be subject to the laws of intestacy For those not married or with complex children and family relationships, intestacy will direct the value of your estate in an unlikely manner subject to a formula based on historic and old fashioned family set ups, rather than your intentions. Creating a Will and an inheritance tax plan, which is reviewed regularly, is a bedrock of good financial planning.


About Alliotts Probate Services

Alliotts are licensed to carry out the reserved legal activity of non-contentious probate, Delia Orme and Jane Thackstone are qualified to provide this service, if you have any questions please contact us.  For further details of how we can help please visit our dedicated page on probate:  https://www.alliotts.com/services/personal-tax/probate-services/