Probate fees that allow bereaved relatives to unlock a loved one’s estate will be hiked 27 per cent to a flat £273 on 26 January.
If you use a professional, like a lawyer, the hike will be 76 per cent as the current large discount for doing this will be scrapped.
Legal experts have hit out at the timing of the increase when bereaved people face waits of six to nine weeks to obtain probate – a vital step to gain control over an estate after someone dies.
But while hefty, the hike in charges to gain control over a loved one’s affairs is nowhere near the stratospheric rise of up to 9,200 per cent the Government sought to impose on large estates a few years ago.
Probate fees: These are currently £215 if you undertake the process yourself, or £155 if you use a lawyer or other professional to do it on your behalf
A threatened ‘death tax’ of up to £20,000 on families inheriting the biggest sums was scaled back to £6,000 – still a rise of 2,700 per cent – before being ditched altogether after a ferocious backlash.
The last plan, which involved a sliding scale that reduced or removed fees for smaller estates, was aimed at raising £185million a year to fund the court system.
However, the Government now says the new £273 fee will apply to any size of estate and only cover the costs of processing probate applications, not make any profit.
A few years ago, families experienced long delays as the probate service was hit by a rush to beat the anticipated vastly increased fees.
This occurred alongside a drastic overhaul involving staff cuts, office closures, new IT systems and changes to work processes.
The Government says that last summer 76 per cent of probate applications were done online and took 3.3 weeks from receipt of a will to probate being granted.
However, the Law Society says that last October getting probate took 9.3 weeks across both online and paper applications, according to official HM Courts & Tribunals Service figures.
‘We query why the UK government has decided to increase fees at this time, particularly as the probate service is still facing delays,’ said the Law Society of England and Wales president, I. Stephanie Boyce.
‘In 2020, people had to wait 12 to 14 weeks on average to receive their grant. This is unacceptable, the service must be timely and allow executors to settle a loved one’s estate.
‘We suggested users should be offered reimbursement for delays. The Ministry of Justic acknowledged this but did not confirm if it’s something they’ll incorporate.’
She also said regarding the fee hike: ‘We support the MoJ’s aim to make a simpler, more streamlined process for users of the probate service, and we understand funds are needed to help this change and development.’
Michael Culver, chair of Solicitors for the Elderly, said: ‘For the last two years, grieving families have had to deal with extensive delays in probate – and this has only marginally improved.
‘SFE members are still reporting an average wait of six weeks.
‘We need to see drastic improvement in the probate service, particularly as people are now having to pay considerably more for it.
‘If the fee increases result in this, it will be a welcome relief for all – otherwise, both consumers and solicitors will be left feeling frustrated at the system once more.’
Culver also noted: ‘We’re pleased that government’s original proposal to introduce a “death tax” has been scrapped. However, the move toward a flat fee is still a sharp increase for consumers.’
The STEP trade body of inheritance professionals said: ‘Although we are pleased that the increase to probate fees is more rational than previous proposals, and we agree that fees charged should cover the cost of providing the service, we have concerns about the fact that this is being brought in at a time when families are suffering due to the service still being subject to significant delays.
‘We have been in regular contact with HM Courts and Tribunal Service and are aware that the probate service is working hard to overcome challenges.
‘We are also concerned that the new universal fee for everyone using the probate service, whether they are a professional or not, may lead to families trying to reduce costs by not getting the professional advice they may need.
‘Probate is a complicated process for families that are dealing with the distress of losing a loved one.
‘The new universal fee may also create extra administration for HM Courts and Tribunal Service at a time when it is already under pressure.’
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: ‘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.
‘Every penny will go towards the cost of processing probate applications – something that is currently subsidised by taxpayers.’
The MoJ will continue to waive probate fees altogether for estates worth £5,000 and under.
A scheme called Help with Fees gives part discounts or waives fees for people who can prove they are not well off, or you can apply to the Lord Chancellor for a special waiver.
The service processing probate applications currently operates at a loss, and the new higher flat fee is aimed at removing the need for it to be subsidised by taxpayers.