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Stop press! A wolf in sheep’s clothing: Probate fee hike a stealth tax

1st March 2019

Following a recent committee vote, the long anticipated probate fee hike is looking increasingly likely to come into effect from April 2019.  Currently it is unclear as to whether this will apply to all probate applications from April 2019 or simply all deaths after this date.

The fees will increase from £155 for a solicitor application and £215 for a personal application to a sliding scale starting at £250 for estates worth more than £50,000 up to £6,000 for estates in excess of £2million.

Whilst ministers insist thousands of families will pay no probate fees at all, with property prices in Surrey averaging £541,715 (rightmove.co.uk) it will see many thousands of families having to pay substantially more in order to obtain a Grant of Probate.

Although the fee is recoverable from the estate the personal representatives must find the money upfront in order to obtain the Grant to access assets.  This is not taking into account any Inheritance Tax that must also be paid prior to applying for the Grant.

The Government has said that guidance will be issued on how to pay the fees, including accessing cash in bank accounts, obtaining a loan or applying for an initial limited Grant!

Professional bodies, including the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, have questioned the legality of this new fee structure which looks suspiciously like a tax to subsidise the underfunded court system, especially as the fees bear no relation to the cost of processing a probate application.

The Statutory Instrument was approved narrowly on 7 February 2019 by 9 votes to 8 and will progress to the House of Commons where it is expected to be approved.

For more information about the probate fee increases and how they could affect you, please contact us. Jeremy Duffy is a Partner and Annika Bell is a Solicitor in our Private Wealth team.

The contents of this update are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this update.

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