The Government is undertaking a £1 billion programme of judicial reform including extensive changes to the probate system which will see a sliding scale of court fees introduced to increase the flat fee paid through a solicitor of £155 on an estate valued at between £500,000 and £1 million to £2,500. On estates valued at over £2 million the cost will rise to £6,000.
Justice Minister, Lucy Frazer says that the new fee model reflects the Government’s commitment to “protecting access to justice by ensuring we have a properly funded and resourced courts system”. The proposals are due to come into force in April, having been recently approved by Parliament on 7th February, and would generate over £145 million in additional fee income in 2019/20, rising each subsequent year in line with increases in estate values. Lucy Frazer says all income raised would be spent on running the courts and tribunal service.
Opponents to the proposals describe the fees as excessive because they are greater than the cost of providing the service in order to subsidise other court costs. They are, however, lower than the original proposal which was for fees to start at £300 for estates worth between £50,000 and £300,000, rising to a maximum fee of £20,000 for estates worth more than £2 million.
The new legislation does mean that no fee is payable on an estate valued at less than £50,000.
“This increase in fees has been hotly disputed as an additional tax on estates, with the government trying to justify that the increase is relevant” says Lucy Atwill who heads up the Wills and Probate department of Plymouth solicitors Curtis Whiteford Crocker. “For many Wills & Probate practitioners they see this unreasonable increase and the ransacking of deceased estates’ as a way to assist in propping up the whole of the court system”.
When the fees are introduced, they will be applied to any estate which hasn’t already got a Grant of Probate, irrespective of when someone died.
“If there isn’t already a Grant, it would be prudent to attend to the application sooner rather than later to ensure that they do not incur the new higher fee,” says Lucy. “It is also now more important than ever, that the Inheritance Tax forms are completed correctly, as these figures will dictate the Court fee. If you are unsure, you should seek the advice of a professional and at Curtis Whiteford Crocker we offer a range of packages including a fixed fee Grant only service.”
Lucy also warned of the dangers of people going it alone as the Government launches a service for online probate applications. The system has been on trial and the plan is to now make it available more widely. At the moment you cannot apply online if the deceased did not leave a will.
“It is important you complete the paperwork correctly as the Courts intend to impose penalties if you submit inaccurate information,” says Lucy. “You need to obtain details of the estate’s value before you apply for probate and, depending on this figure, you may be liable to pay Inheritance Tax. Depending on the circumstances it can be a complex area of the law and can become very stressful very quickly when you are grieving.”
Lucy Atwill heads up the Wills and Probate department of Curtis Whiteford Crocker, with offices in Plymouth, Tavistock and Torpoint. Visit www.cwcsolicitors.co.uk. Contentious probate specialist Tony Pearce can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has written on the subject and his articles can be found at www.lawskills.co.uk