New proposals to increase the cost of settling a deceased’s estate could put bereaved families out of pocket, say legal experts.
Current rules involve executors paying a fixed fee of £215 (or £155 if a solicitor is involved) to obtain a grant of representation – commonly called a grant of probate where the deceased left a Will – from the Probate Registry.
The grant of probate provides legal authority to executors to administer a person’s estate. The probate fee is currently the same, irrespective of the value of the estate.
The Government plans to replace the flat fee with a new banded structure from April 2019. The fees paid will be based on the value of an estate, although there will be no charge for estates valued at £50,000 or less.
Under the new proposals, all estates valued at more than £50,000 will be subject to an increase in probate fees. The government says around 80 per cent of estates will pay £750 or less and that fees will never be more than 0.5 per cent of the value of the estate.
Probate specialists at Langleys Solicitors say families may struggle to pay the increased fees. The deceased’s bank accounts are often frozen after their death until the grant of probate has been issued, and it is not clear how the government expects executors to pay the increased probate fees if they are not able to access the deceased’s accounts.
Chelsea Martin, solicitor in the private client team at Langleys, said: “Executors will have limited access to a deceased’s funds to be able to pay the higher revised probate fees. They therefore may have to pay the fees themselves and then look to recover the cost back from the estate.
“There are also valid concerns that estates will be overcharged. The Probate Registry’s work related to issuing a grant of probate is the same irrespective of the value of the estate.”
The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) has described the proposals as an ‘extra death tax’ on bereaved families.
Chelsea, a member of STEP, said: “We need to see more detailed guidance from the government and in particular guidance on how they expect families and executors to be able to pay the increased probate fees.”