Rise in cost of probate delayed due to Brexit
Proposals to increase the costs associated with probate for families sorting out the wills of loved ones who have died have been delayed by Brexit, following a widespread backlash against their implementation.
The increases, which had been due to come into effect on 1 April are set to bring in a sliding scale of charges to replace the current flat rate of £215 for granting approval on a will. The move was expected to raise around £155 million a year for the Treasury.
However, currently, no date has been fixed for a parliamentary motion in the Commons that would allow the proposals to become reality.
A grant of probate is official recognition of the validity of a will and enables the deceased’s estate to be realised and for inheritances to be distributed. The procedure is overseen by HM Courts and Tribunals Service, an agency whose actions are overseen by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
Originally, the MoJ had planned to raise £300 million a year through charging fees of up to £20,000 for large estates. However, there was widespread opposition as well as a snap General Election and these plans were abandoned.
Since then they have returned with what the department believes to be a more reasonable approach.
Under the MoJ’s latest proposals, estates worth less than £50,000 would not have to pay any probate fees, those between £50,000 and £300,000 would pay £250 and the fee will rise thereafter according to the size of the estate. The largest sum would be £6,000 for an inheritance worth more than £2m.
Christina Blacklaws, President of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: “The government’s proposed increases to probate fees have been unpopular with both consumers and the legal profession since the very beginning.
“The cost to the courts for granting probate does not change whether the estate is worth £50,000 or £2m. Making larger estates pay more is effectively just increasing the level of inheritance tax by stealth.
“It is inherently unfair to expect the bereaved to subsidise other parts of the courts and tribunal service, particularly in circumstances where they have no other option but to apply for probate. This is a tax on grief.”
Under the proposals, widows, surviving civil partners and charities, who are exempt from paying Inheritance Tax, will have to pay the increased probate fees. This is a significant change of principle, and there is criticism that the change is being implemented through the backdoor of secondary legislation by Statutory Instrument rather than by an Act of Parliament as is required for taxation. Most people consider the new probate fees to be a tax in everything but name.