The proposed legislation increasing probate fees was due to lapse following the planned prorogation of Parliament. This would have brought a welcome end (at least for now) to the uncertainty faced over the last year.
The Non-Contentious Probate Fees Order 2018 was the second attempt to introduce a revised fee structure after similar legislation was dropped in 2017 after the government received considerable criticism over the proposals. The 2018 Order, if implemented, would have introduced a banded system of probate fees to replace the current flat fee of £215 (or £155 if applying through a solicitor). Whilst the proposals would have seen an increase in the threshold under which no fee was payable from £5,000 to £50,000, larger estates would have seen fees increase dramatically with estates valued over £2 million having to pay a fee of £6,000.
Although the proposed new fees were significantly lower than those proposed the previous year (£20,000 for estates of over £2 million), the government has still faced a considerable amount of criticism. Organisations such as the Law Society of England & Wales and The Institute of Legacy Management argued that the proposals amounted to nothing more than a ‘Stealth Tax’. It is considered by many that the proposed fees could put some bereaved families under significant financial pressure and may impact on the willingness of individuals to leave charitable legacies in their wills.
The legislation required to introduce the new fee structure had been scheduled to be discussed by parliament since February 2019, with the initial expectation that the new fee structure would be implemented in April 2019. As an increasing amount of parliament’s timetable became dedicated to Brexit the scheduling of the motion to approve the relevant legislation has continued to be postponed.
Despite the ruling by the Supreme Court that the progrogation was unlawful, the Ministry of Justice have today confirmed they are withdrawing the plans anyway. Any further fee increases will, for the time being, be considered as part of the wider annual court fee review process.
It is currently taking probate registries ten weeks or more to issue grants which previously were often issued in under three weeks. This is due to a backlog of applications being worked by the registries that are a result, in part, of applicants submitting a large number of applications prior to the proposed new fees intended introduction in April 2019. Those increased timescales have had a significant impact on related transactions such as property sales and, ultimately, in beneficiaries receiving their inheritance. It now appears that those delays may have been unnecessary, and, potentially, may be faced again in future years should the legislation be reintroduced.
To discuss any concerns regarding probate or assistance with the administration of an estate, please contact a member of our team on 0330 0947777.