A major legal regulator in England and Wales has rallied against a proposed increase in probate fees.
The Law Society described the plans – which will see the cost of obtaining a grant of probate rise from £155 or £215 (for probate professionals or individuals, respectively) to a flat fee of £273 – as “unjustifiable”.
A grant of probate is a legal document confirming that the executors named on it are the people entitled to deal with the estate of the deceased.
But it was announced by the Government last month that the probate service was operating at a loss.
According to HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), the estimated processing costs of administering applications in 2018/19 was between £260 and £265 – meaning potentially hundreds of pounds are lost per application.
It was projected that the changes could raise up to £25 million each year.
But the Law Society says the plans are “unwelcome”, particularly when “grieving relatives are suffering because the service is still subject to significant delay”.
It was reported earlier this year that the probate backlog had reached 29,000 cases, with some bereaved families waiting up to 17 weeks to close an estate.
The delays were attributed to a surge in applications lodged in response to entirely separate plans to increase probate fees – which were ultimately scrapped in 2019 – and the closure of District Registries in favour of an underperforming online service, as well as an increase in the death rate due to Covid-19.
Commenting on the latest proposals, Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said the Government’s “persistence of raising fees in the probate service is worrying”.
“It is no secret the probate service has faced delays for people applying for probate grants or letters of administration. In 2020, people had to wait 12 to 14 weeks on average to receive their grant. This is unacceptable, the service must be timely and allow executors to settle a loved one’s estate,” she said.
“Any increase in fees must be reflected in the service provided. The online service was specifically designed to streamline the process and the UK government must get the system working efficiently before upping costs to both professional and non-professional users alike.”
The MoJ stressed, however, that the measures will not “generate any profit” for the Government and are “significantly different” from proposed fee increases in 2019, which were described as a “death stealth tax” at the time.
Commenting on the plans, An MoJ spokesperson said: “Every penny from these fees will go towards the cost of processing applications – meaning taxpayers will no longer be forced to subsidise them.”
Click here to learn more about the probate fee increases.
Click here to read the Law Society response.
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