On 5 November 2018 Justice Lucy Frazer QC MP announced the Government’s intention to increase Probate Court Fees. The issue was last raised in 2017 and hastily dropped before the general election in May 2017 as the move was widely condemned. Currently the fees are a flat rate of £215 for personal applications, £155 if you use a Solicitor and £0 for Estates that are valued at less than £5,000. The proposed fees are set out in the table below and are due to come into effect from April 2019:

Value of Estate £2 million+
Probate Court Fees £6,000
Value of Estate £1.6 - £2 million
Probate Court Fees £5,000
Value of Estate £500,000 - £1 million
Probate Court Fees £4,000
Value of Estate £350,000-£500,000
Probate Court Fees £750
Value of Estate £50,000-£350,000
Probate Court Fees £250
Value of Estate Less than £50,000
Probate Court Fees £0
Value of Estate Probate Court Fees
£2 million+ £6,000
£1.6 - £2 million £5,000
£500,000 - £1 million £4,000
£350,000-£500,000 £750
£50,000-£350,000 £250
Less than £50,000 £0

While the fees are considerably lower than those proposed in 2017 (the maximum fee then was £20,000), there is still no justifiable reason for the increase. The work required by the Probate Registry is the same regardless of the value of the Estate. The move has generated widespread criticism and the Law Society has even deemed it “increasing Inheritance Tax by Statutory Instrument”. If the move is seen as a tax then it must pass through Parliament and these changes have not as the Government insist it is not necessary.

The Government have previously argued that the move will mean less Estates will require a Grant of Probate because the threshold has been increased from £5,000-£50,000. The reality is that most banks will release more than £5,000 without a Grant of Probate anyway and in fact they will often release as much as £30,000-50,000 without a grant so this is a misleading statement.

Probate Court Fees are naturally paid before the grant is issued and therefore the personal representatives of the estate will have to find the money for the fees immediately, without a grant. The funds are required in addition to funding any Inheritance Tax which is also due before the Grant. It can be tricky to raise cash in an Estate, especially if the main asset is a house, which needs a grant before it can be sold. The Government have promised that a guidance document titled “Guidance on Ways to Pay for Probate Fees” will be published before the changes come into force but we are mid-way through February and this has not yet been published.

There seems to be little news since the initial announcement in November 2018 but with the changes set to hit in April, anyone wishing to avoid the fees should ensure that their Probate application is sent in the next few weeks. If you require any assistance in this regard please contact Jackson Barrett & Gass and we will pleased to help you.