The government is planning to radically increase the level of probate fees charged for the highest value estates in an effort to raise an extra £250m per year to fund the courts and tribunal service.
Currently, the probate application fee is £155 for solicitors, and £215 for individual applicants. The proposals are that estates worth between £50,000 and £300,000 would pay a £300 fee, with fees then progressively rising for estates worth between £300,000 and £2m. Estates worth over £2m would be charged £20,000.
In support of the changes, the government has argued that although the income currently generated by probate fees covers the cost of the probate registry service, further income is needed in order to reduce the estimated £1.1bn burden on taxpayers to cover the cost of funding the courts and tribunals system.
However, such sharp increases are likely to be extremely unpopular in circumstances where there was already a 30% hike in probate fees in April 2014. Further, it is likely to present administrative issues for Executors in terms of being able to pay the fees due to the fact they currently only have very limited access to Estate funds prior to obtaining the Grant of Representation. It is also not expected that individuals or practitioners alike will see any improvement in the probate service on the basis that the additional money generated is to be allocated to the wider courts and tribunals system, and not to the probate registries themselves.
The Law Society appears to echo a lot of these concerns and have commented that “it is unfair and discriminatory to expect the bereaved to fund/subsidise other parts of the courts and tribunals service. Court fees are a necessary source of funding but should not be charged over and above the cost of the specified service”.