Plans to change probate fees: what you need to know
What is probate?
If you’re dealing with a deceased’s estate – meaning their property, money and other possessions – you need to obtain a grant of probate from the Probate Registry, part of the English court system, before you are legally allowed to do anything with it.
If the deceased person has a will, they will usually have appointed an executor who can then apply for the grant of probate.
If they haven’t left a will, the law decides who inherits what under intestacy rules.
You don’t normally need a grant if the estate passes to the surviving spouse/civil partner because it was held in joint names, such as a savings account, or doesn’t include land, property or shares.
What does probate cost?
Currently, applications cost £155 when made by a solicitor and £215 when made by another applicant. Estates requiring probate but that are worth less than £5,000 don’t pay a fee.
What’s the government proposing and why?
The proposed fee structure would relate to the value of the estate. It would include seven bands with the fee increasing in line with the value of estate (after outstanding debts, but before inheritance tax liabilities applied). The fee would never exceed 1% of the value of the estate.
Under the plans, the value of the estate below which no fee needs to be paid would rise from £5,000 to £50,000, lifting some 30,000 estates out of paying any fee. According to the government, 57% of all estates would pay no fee.
The government says 27% of estates would see their fee rise to £300, up from the current £215, 84% of estates would pay £300 or nothing, while 94% of estates would pay £1,000 or less.
It says the current probate service relies on a manual paper-based system and has an ageing IT infrastructure and it’s looking to “invest in technology” to enable probate applications to be completed online.
What if the executor can’t pay the fees?
Currently the courts and tribunal service operates a ‘help with fees scheme’ where the fee can be reduced or waived.
The probate fee is guaranteed to be recovered from the estate so the executor shouldn’t ever be left out of pocket. Most banks allow funds from the deceased accounts to be used to meet the costs.