The Ministry of Justice is looking to make probate fees more expensive, claiming that the current system operates at a loss and places an unfair burden on the taxpayer.
A grant of probate is a document issued by the probate registry (part of the court service) which gives executors legal authority to administer the estate of a person who has died.
The court fee for a grant of probate is currently £155 for an application made by a professional, and £215 for an application made personally.
The government proposes to bring these two fees in line with each other, with a fee of £273 becoming applicable in early 2022.
The government said it currently costs HM Courts & Tribunals Service more to process probate applications than the fees it receives, meaning the service operates at a loss and places a burden on the taxpayer in the form of subsidising the processing of probate applications. It said a deficit of £85m currently exists in family jurisdiction services and that the proposals will raise between £23m and £25m each year from 2022.
The MoJ has launched a consultation for users of the probate service, the legal industry, the advice sector, the judiciary, and anyone with an interest in the family court system. The consultation, which is running from 8 July 2021 to 23 September 2021, aims to seek views on the proposal to increase the probate application cost to a single flat fee of £273.
- Within the consultation they have included a questionnaire and are welcoming responses to three questions that will help them determine:
- Whether people agree with making the fee the same for all users
- Whether people agree with increasing the fee to recover the cost of providing the service
- If any modifications should be considered to mitigate any impact that may affect those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010
From initial feedback from those working in the probate industry, many believe the fee should remain lower for experienced professionals who are more likely to correctly submit a Grant application. In these instances, HMCTS will probably have less work to do as the application process will generally be smoother due to fewer errors in applications.
Not the first time
Increases to probate fees had been proposed in 2016 and again in 2019, with the proposals being shelved by the government on both occasions. Those proposals were much more drastic, involving sliding scales of fees of up to £20,000.
The current proposals are justified by the government on the basis that the probate service is currently operating at a loss, and the increased fee will enable the service to cover its costs.
Interestingly, the 2019 proposals had been intended to generate fees that would subsidise the court service as a whole. At that time, the income from probate fees covered the cost of the probate service – it was not loss-making, as it apparently is now.
Since 2019, the probate service has introduced new forms and a new online application system, and has been re-structuring, with local probate registries being closed. These factors, along with the previous fee proposals, have contributed to serious backlogs in grants of probate being issued.
The Law Society of England have said that the plans to hike fees for probate applications are unwelcome particularly when grieving relatives are suffering because the service is still subject to significant delays.
Certain trusts may help mitigate probate fees and sometimes avoid the probate process entirely. If you would like to know more about how we can help your clients to efficiently plan for the future, get in touch.