The Ministry of Justice has confirmed a massive overhaul in probate charges, which will see some estates charged up to £20,000. From May this year, subject to parliamentary approval, the MoJ is planning to introduce a sliding scale of charges for probate fees to replace the current flat fees.
Current probate fees are £215, or £155 for those applying through a solicitor. On the new scale, estates worth between £1.6m and £2m will be charged £12,000, while below £50,000 will be exempt from charges. Estates worth between £50,000 and £300,000 will pay £300.
The ministry said the 'fairer, banded system' will mean more than half of estates will pay nothing and 92% will pay no more than £1,000. However some estates will pay more than 129 times the current level. 'Fees are necessary to maintain an accessible, world-leading justice system which puts the needs of victims and vulnerable people first,’ the spokesperson added.
In February last year, the Gazette reported that the MoJ was planning the increases as part of its plans to raise an extra £250m a year to fund the courts and tribunal service. The Law Society expressed criticism of the proposals, saying they could encourage more people to undertake probate themselves rather than instruct a solicitor.
It added: ‘It is unfair and discriminatory to expect the bereaved to fund/subsidise other parts of the court and tribunals service.
'Court fees are a necessary source of funding but should not be charged over and above the cost of the specific service.’
National firm Irwin Mitchell pointed out that, of 831 respondents to the MoJ’s consultation on the charges, less than 2% were in favour. Sarah Phillips, partner, said the changes amounted to a ‘new form of taxation’.
Probate is a largely administrative function, for which fees up to £20,000 are 'quite disproportionate', she said. The change could lead to older people feeling obliged to give away assets in their lifetime, to avoid the charges, she said.
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