Axing the Probate fee hike
300,000 families would potentially have been affected by the changes that were due to take place next year. Current probate fees are a flat rate of £215 in England and Wales or £155 if applying through a solicitor, on estates above £5,000.
Mr Buckland declared that the increase in cost was not ‘fair and proportionate’ and would be withdrawn, with the possibility of a small increases in fees to take place instead. The change in policy has been widely well-received by many who think that an increase in cost for grieving families was an unfair way to collect money from the vulnerable.
Reactions to the news
The Law Society has welcomed the news, with President Simon Davis commenting that “It is inherently unfair to expect the bereaved to fund other parts of the courts and tribunal service when they have no other option but to apply for probate. “In its review of court fees government should bear in mind that it is a false economy to impose charges that go beyond cost recovery. Equal access to justice is a fundamental part of the rule of law.”
RWK Goodman partner, James McNeile, comments: ‘a particular concern had been that the significant probate fee, which had to be paid before probate was granted (and so before funds were available within the estate) would cause difficulties and delays in the probate process. This reversion to the tried and tested fees should fit well with changes made at the Probate Court to streamline and simplify the steps needing to be taken at an emotionally draining time.’
Suggestions that solicitors should fund the fees or families approached to pay these amounts fitted neither with the cash flow within solicitor’s practices nor the ready availability of such sums to family members at a time when finances already come under pressure on a loved one’s death. Regulatory difficulties over loan arrangements also caused difficulties for what are, although significant, insufficiently large loan amounts to cover the risk and regulatory barriers to funding the fees by way of loan.
The steps to be granted probate
The probate process is entered into when someone dies. If they have no Will, an application is made for Letters of Administration. If a Will exists then the application is for a Grant of Probate. Those documents are needed before banks and other asset holders will allow access to funds and transfer into beneficiaries’ names. Historically one would hope that grants would be available within as little as three months of death, but recent teething difficulties at the Probate Registry have seen extremely extended delays. The drop off in service quality did not sit well with the suggested fee increases.
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