In November 2018 the government announced it was going to press ahead with plans to substantially increase the court fees payable for applying for a grant of representation. These fees are currently £155 if the application is made by a solicitor, or £215 for a personal application made by the legal representatives.
The proposed new fees are on a sliding scale linked to the value of the deceased’s estate, ranging from £250 to £6,000 as set out below:
|Gross value of estate
||Probate court fee
|£50,000 - £300,000
|£300,000 - £500,000
|£1m - £1.6m
|£1.6m - £2m
This has been highly criticised as a ‘stealth tax’ as the level of work required by the probate court does not differ based on the size of the estate. It means that those estates which include a property, which may have been bought many years ago and has increased in value, will be required to pay a higher fee. The government has also been criticised for using a statutory instrument to pass the new legislation as it means there does not have to be a vote on the issue unless objections are made by MPs.
There is currently little information as to how these fees can be paid and whether the banks will release funds from the deceased’s accounts, as they currently do, to cover the cost of funeral expenses and Inheritance Tax. If this is not the case, then other methods of payment could include insurance policies written into trust, specifically to cover these fees, together with funeral expenses and Inheritance Tax, if applicable. If these are not an option then the personal representatives will need to source funds to pay these fees some other way, such as a loan from the bank or themselves, or even a relative of the deceased, to be repaid once the grant of representation has been obtained and the estate can be administered.
In November, when this fee increase was announced, it was stated that the new fees would come into effect in April 2019. On 7 February 2019, The Fourteenth Delegated Legislation Committee voted by nine votes to eight to approve the increase. Labour have stated they will object to the fee increase when it is brought in front of the House of Commons, meaning the issue will have to be debated in full and put to a vote. However, this cannot be guaranteed and if no objections are made, the order can be made with no vote.
At the time of writing, the fee increase has yet to go before the House of Commons and a date is not yet known for this. Although the original date for implementation was April 2019, this has now passed as the House of Commons currently have more pressing matters to attend to with Brexit.
However, it has been confirmed by the Probate Court that if the House of Commons approves the changes, and the order is made, the increase will come into effect 21 days from the date of the order.