The Government has issued proposals to increase the fee paid to the Probate Registry for obtaining a Grant of Probate. A Grant of Probate is very often required when someone dies to allow the estate to be administered. Currently the fee is £155.00 for all estates which have a value of more than £5,000.
Is this fair?
The proposals suggest that there should be no fee for estates of value less than £50,000 which will make it cheaper to administer estates of less than that sum. However the raising of this threshold is countered by a massive increase on higher value estates. For example the fee to obtain a Grant of Probate for an estate worth £2 million or more will become £20,000. The following consequences seem either to unfair or unsatisfactory or both:
- People seeking to organise their affairs (especially the elderly) might be persuaded to move their assets out of their name to their children or into some form of ‘Trust’ so that when they die their estate is of a lower value and therefore a Grant of Probate will not be necessary. Vulnerable people might be persuaded to part with assets, which may not be in their best interests. Unregulated organisations might see this as a marketing tool to try and grab business from elderly people in this manner.
- Although most very large estates will have cash in them to enable payment of the probate fee some very large estates may almost entirely consist of property or shares and it may not be easy to find cash for the probate fee which has to be paid up front.
- People might be tempted to put their money in lots of very small accounts to try and enable each account to be administered individually after their death so that a Grant of Probate is not required.
- The current proposal is not designed to ensure that the Probate service simply pays its way. The service currently pays its way. This revenue raising exercise is designed to subsidise other parts of the Court and Tribunal Service. Charging such high fees to deceased estates is probably seen by the Government as an easy target to fund other areas of the Court and Tribunal Service.
Government consultation ends on 1 April 2016 and one can only wait to see what the outcome will be.
Whatever action individuals might be prepared to take to deal with increased probate fees they should always ensure that when dealing with a professional the professional is regulated and insured before undertaking any business with them, or handing over any money. The advantage of using a solicitor is that solicitors are regulated by the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority and all carry insurance. Firms of solicitors which close or merge can be tracked through the Law Society so that documents held by a former firm of solicitors are traceable in the future.