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15 Oct 2019

Probate fees hike scrapped: deceased estates avoid bills of up to £6,000

Fees for grant of probate applications won't rise

Bereaved families no longer face the prospect of a hefty bill for probate applications, after the government announces that a planned fee rise will not go ahead.

Probate is the authorisation you need to manage the estate of someone who has died.

A major change, originally scheduled for April, would have replaced the current flat fee in England and Wales with a sliding scale, under which the biggest estates would have paid more than £6,000, while more smaller estates would have been exempt.

Here we explain what probate is, how much it costs and what the decision to keep fees as they are means for you.

  • Need help with probate? Download our free checklist from Which? Legal to help you through the process.

What was the probate fee hike?

At present, applying for a grant of probate in England and Wales costs £215 if you make your own application, or £155 if you apply through a solicitor. Estates worth less than £5,000 are exempt from the charge.

In November last year, the Ministry of Justice announced plans to move to a tiered fee structure. Under this system, the number of estates that are exempt would have been expanded to those worth less than £50,000.

For larger estates, however, the fees increased dramatically, with the largest paying up to £6,000.

Size of estate (before inheritance tax)Proposed fees
Up to £50,000£0
£50,001 - £300,000£250
£300,001 - £500,000£750
£500,001 - £1,000,000£2,500
£1,000,001 - £1,600,000£4,000
£1,600,001 - £2,000,000£5,000
£2,000,000 +£6,000

The government claimed that 25,000 more households would pay no fees under their proposal, and that the changes were necessary to fund the courts and tribunals services.

However, many households would have to pay thousands more, with fees due before access to the estate's funds are granted. The proposal was criticised by a number of organisations, with the Law Society calling it a 'tax on grief'.

The suggested changes only ever applied to England and Wales. The probate fee is £200 in Scotland and £220 in Northern Ireland, though the exemption below £5,000 applies across the UK.

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Why has the government changed its mind?

The changes to the fee structure were originally due to come into force in April. However, extended Brexit negotiations, a change of prime minister and the proroguing of parliament delayed the final vote.

On Saturday, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland confirmed the proposed fee hike would not be implemented.

He told the Daily Mail: 'While fees are necessary to properly fund our world-leading courts system, they must be fair and proportionate. We will withdraw these proposals, and keep the current system while we take a closer look at these court fees as part of our annual wider review.'

The move was welcomed by Law Society president Simon Davis, who said: '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.'

What does the delay mean for you?

The government's latest announcement means probate fees will stay the same in England and Wales.

However, just the threat of a fee hike has already caused problems for executors.

Ahead of the original April deadline, people managing a deceased estate rushed to submit applications to avoid the higher costs. The result was delays of up to 13 weeks in processing grants of probate, not helped by teething problems with a new online application system.

As of September, the delays were closer to six or seven weeks, with HM Courts and Tribunals Service bringing in additional resources to help reduce the backlog.

How to pay the probate fee?

You'll need to pay the probate fee when you make an application for a grant of probate, which you can now do online.

Generally, you can use funds from the deceased's estate to cover these costs. However, you need a grant of probate to gain access to the deceased's funds, so you may need to pay out of pocket and then be reimbursed from the estate.

If you can't afford to do this,some banks will agree to release the money in advance, and the probate service may be willing to intervene on your behalf.

You may be able to apply for a limited grant of probate, which would give you just enough access to the bank accounts for the fees to be released to you.

  • Need help with probate? Download our free checklist from Which? Legal to help you through the process.