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20 Jan 2022

Probate fees set to rise on 26 January

Fees are currently £215 if you do it yourself, or £155 if you use a probate professional
An older man sorting documents

The current two-tier probate fee system will be replaced by a fixed flat fee of £273 from 26 January as the Government looks to raise an extra £20m a year.

Probate is the legal right to deal with someone's property, money and possessions when they die and in most cases, you will need to be granted this before you can act as the executor of someone's estate.

Currently, you either pay £155 if you use a probate professional or £215 if you choose to apply yourself, so bereaved people will have to pay up to 76% more when the flat fee comes into force.

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How will the new fixed-fee work?

From 26 January it will cost £273 for all applicants, regardless of the size of the estate.

The government announced its intention to equalise fees for all applicants on the basis that users should pay the same fee for the same service and this should be set to cover the costs without generating a profit.

Estates valued at £5,000 or less will remain exempt from paying a fee on applying for probate.

Why are the fees changing?

The current fee system was introduced in April 2014 and operates at a loss.

Last July the government launched a consultation into new proposals and said it cost HM Courts and Tribunals Service more to process probate applications than the fee it receives - meaning the service is subsidised by the taxpayer.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) told Which? 'every penny' would go towards the cost of processing applications.

He added: 'These fees will fully fund our investment in a first-class digital probate service to ensure shorter waiting times, fewer user and administrative errors and a better experience for families.'

This new fee is very different to a controversial one proposed in 2018 which would have seen a sliding scale introduced with estates valued over £2m incurring £6,000 in probate fees. This proposal, dubbed the 'death tax', was dropped in 2019.

Are these fees justified?

Responding to the July consultation, the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) raised concerns that a universal fee could discourage the use of probate professionals.

It said removing the cost difference between professional and non-professional applications could lead to an increase in work for the probate service as there may be more chance of mistakes or errors in the application.

Meanwhile, legal professionals have noted how the timing of the fee increase will be hard to take considering the probate system has been hit with delays.

James Buchan from Which? Legal said: 'The digitalisation and modernisation of the probate application process, and subsequent changes to the service, were meant to achieve a streamlined and enhanced system, presumably at less cost.

'This has yet to be seen. With the time taken to process probate applications increasing; up to five months in some cases, plus a service which is considerably diminished in quality, and negligible cost savings, it is questionable whether the increase in the fee which is going ahead now can be justified at all.'

The Law Society has suggested that users should be offered reimbursement for delays.Stephanie Boyce, president of the society said the MoJ had acknowledged this request but did not confirm if it's something it will incorporate. She said the new feesmust be accompanied by service improvements.

Court fees have gone up across the board

Probate fees aren't the only costs that have risen in recent years.

In September last year, the government announced that 129 court fees would be increased - for the first time in five years.

Fees for filing an application for divorce, nullity, or civil partnership dissolution, for example, increased from £550 to £592.

The MoJ said the increase would reflect historic inflation and would not be an increase in real terms.

What if you can't afford the fees?

If you can't afford the fees, the MoJ has a remission scheme called Help with Fees.

To be eligible you usually need to have less than £3,000 in savings and investments and be under 61. You can have up to £16,000 in savings if you are over 61.

You will also need to be on a low income or on benefits including Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, Universal Credit or Pension Credit. You can apply online or via a paper form.

If you do not believe you would be eligible for help, but believe you would face undue hardship as a result of paying, you can apply for the fee to be waived via the Lord Chancellor's exceptional powers to remit fees. Find out more on the government website.

Tips for a smoother probate experience

Applying for probate may seem like a daunting task but there are some things you can do to make it easier.

Download our free checklist

Which? has plenty of guides to make the process easier for you.

Find out precisely what you need to do with our downloadable probate checklist from Which? Legal.

It includes the tasks you'll likely need to complete in the process and the 13 clear stages of handling someone's estate.

Pay for extra copies

After you've paid your probate fees it may be worth getting extra copies of the document as it will cost more to get these later on.

Multiple copies are essential for the administration process, and it's normal to order at least five. Extra copies cost £1.50 each.

Use the 'Tell Us Once' service

This service allows you to tell all government departments about a death with one call or email.

To apply you will need the deceased person's date of birth, national insurance number, driving licence number and passport number.

The service should then notify HMRC, the Department of Work and Pensions, the Passport Office and the DVLA.