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‘Bereavement tax’ to soar to £20k for some estates

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01/03/2017
Probate fees are set to soar after the government confirmed a shake-up of the way charges are applied.

From 1 May, anyone applying for probate – the legal right to deal with a deceased person’s estate – could be hit with a fee as big as £20,000.

Under the current system, probate fees are a flat £215 or £155 if using a solicitor.

However, the government is scrapping the flat fee system and replacing it with a tiered structure which will increase in line with the value of the estate, up to a maximum of £20,000.

It is also raising the fee threshold from £5,000 to £50,000. The Ministry of Justice said this will lift an extra 25,000 estates out of paying any fees.

probate fees

Nick Mendoza, a senior associate solicitor at law firm Howard Kennedy, said: “These proposals will cause the executors of estates real problems in some cases, as these fees will need to be paid upfront.

“Whilst executors can access funds in frozen bank accounts of estates to fund those fees in most cases, this assumes that there are funds available.  If no funds are available, or if funds cannot be accessed, the government seems to expect executors or beneficiaries to fund the probate fees themselves.”

The changes come despite a consultation which saw just 13 of the 831 responses agree with the government’s proposed fee structure.

Gordon Andrews, financial planning expert, Old Mutual Wealth, said: “It is disappointing the government plans to press ahead with the new fee structure for Grants of Probates despite wide-scale concern from the industry.

“The move from a flat rate fee structure to one which is tiered based on assets could, in theory, have been an acceptable model, but the level of fees imposed are arguably unjustified.

“At its crudest, one could argue that this is yet another stealth tax being levied by the government, which can add up to 1% in fees on the value of an estate.”

Graeme Robb, senior technical manager at Prudential, said: “Linking probate fees to the size of a person’s estate is effectively a tax on bereavement. Families with large estates will now start considering ways to reduce the size of their estate before they die. Financial advisers have an important role to play and will be able to advise clients about  creating trusts or gifting assets to their loved ones before they die.

“One option for modest estates is to set up a Probate trust, which gives beneficiaries speedy access to funds when a client dies. This avoids the need to gain probate, saves on the cost of probate and ensures the bond’s proceeds are paid in accordance with the client’s wishes.”

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