Bereaved families have just months to apply before probate fees are hiked
Many families who have lost a loved one could face increased fees if they don't apply for probate before April – although those with smaller estates may be better off waiting until after the rules change.
Probate fees – paid when administering someone's estate after they die – are set to be charged as a sliding scale rather than a flat rate in England and Wales from April 2019.
At the moment, families are charged a flat £215, or £155 if they apply through a solicitor, which is paid at the point of application for probate on estates over £5,000 (estates worth less than £5,000 are exempt from the fee).
But the planned rule changes mean estates under £50,000 won't pay any fees at all – while all other estates are set to see a rise in fees. Estates worth between £50,000 and £300,000 will be charged £250, and the maximum charge will be £6,000 for estates worth £2 million or more.
The changes are only planned for estates in England and Wales, as Scotland and Northern Ireland have different probate fees.
See our Guide to Probate for more information.
What is probate?
When someone dies and leaves property, money and possessions – which is collectively known as their estate – the executor of the will needs to sort out who gets what.
If the deceased left a will and appointed an executor, that person will need to get what is known as a 'grant of probate'. However, if there is no will, the next of kin must apply for what is known as a 'grant of letters of administration'.
The executor or next of kin will then need to get a 'grant of representation', which proves their authority to administer the estate. The process of applying to the court for the grant and the document used to manage the estate is often generically referred to as 'probate' – and incurs probate fees.
Put simply, and in order, the executor's or next of kin's job and the process of dealing with probate involves:
- Gathering any assets, eg, money left in bank accounts.
- Paying any bills.
- Distributing what's left according to the will.
When will the fees be increased?
The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that the fee changes are still on course to be implemented this April, although an exact date hasn't yet been set.
However, the new fees still need to be approved by the House of Commons, so in theory there could still be delays.
The new fees will be charged based on when you apply for probate (not on when the estate holder died).
What will I pay after April?
Under the new rules, the fees will depend on the amount the estate is worth. You'll pay the same amount whether you use a solicitor or apply independently:
- Estates worth less than £50,000 will pay nothing. There's no change for estates worth less than £5,000, but estates worth between £5,000 and £50,000 will save £215 compared to the current system.
In theory, those applying for probate for an estate of this size may be better off waiting until April. However, you'll need to get the grant of probate before you can settle the estate and share out assets, so some may want to apply sooner to speed up the process – especially as the rule changes haven't yet been approved by the House of Commons.
- Estates worth more than £50,000 will see an increase in fees of between £35 and £5,785.
Understandably, applying for probate may be the last thing on many bereaved families' minds. According to Government data, it takes an average of two to three months following a death for individuals or solicitors to submit their probate application, and 20% take longer than six months.
But if you've been putting off applying for probate, and now feel able to, doing it before April could avoid thousands extra in fees.
Here's a full breakdown of how much more you could pay after the rules change:
- Estates worth from £50,000 up to £300,000 will pay £250, a rise of £35.
- Estates worth from £300,000 up to £500,000 will pay £750, a rise of £535.
- Estates worth from £500,000 up to £1 million will pay £2,500, a rise of £2,285.
- Estates worth from £1 million up to £1.6 million will pay £4,000, a rise of £3,785.
- Estates worth from £1.6 million up to £2 million will pay £5,000, a rise of £4,785.
- Estates worth more than £2 million will pay £6,000, a rise of £5,785.
What does the Government say?
Lucy Frazer MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Justice, submitted a written statement to Parliament when the changes were announced in November 2018. She said: "This new banded fee model represents a fair and more progressive way to pay for probate services compared to the current flat fee and reflects our commitment to protecting access to justice by ensuring we have a properly funded and resourced courts system.
"We are also confident these fees will never be unaffordable. The cost of the fee is recoverable from the estate and executors have several options to fund it. Moreover, the Lord Chancellor retains a power to remit a fee if he considers there are exceptional circumstances."
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