May this year will see a dramatic general increase in the fees which have to be paid to Probate Registries in order to obtain Probate and similar orders dealing with the estates of deceased persons.
Presently the fee payable to obtain a grant of probate if a personal application is made (rather than the application being made by a solicitor on your behalf) ranges from nothing if the estate is valued at less than £5,000 to £215 in all other cases.
The new rules, which apply from May onwards will result in an increase to £50,000 in the level below which no fee is payable to a fee of £20,000 if the estate is valued at over £2 million. Between the £50,000 and £2m values the fees increase in stages as the estate exceeds set thresholds.
For example, estates valued between £50,000 and £300,000 will pay a fee of £300, between £300,000 and £500,000 a fee of £1,000 and between £500,000 and £1m a fee of £4,000
The Government argues that as our justice system is the envy of the world, continuing investment in the quality of the service is essential and hence the decision to increase the fees following a consultation.
In statistical terms, we can speculate that many estates requiring Probate in this locality will be below the £500,000 threshold but the availability of funds to pay a £300 or £1,000 fee before Probate has been obtained and the assets of the deceased have made available is likely to be problematic.
Amanda Fletcher solicitor with Bury & Walkers of Barnsley commented that many applications will require a fee of £1,000 or less but potential problems with the availability of this cash and the reduction in the estate available for beneficiaries must be recognised. Furthermore, Amanda anticipates that the sizeable increase in fees is likely to encourage vulnerable people to seek to gift their assets away in attempts to avoid the probate process altogether.
It remains to be seen whether banks and other institutions will replicate their concessions presently applied to the payment of funeral accounts to make probate fees available to executors but as a matter of self help, if you are an executor and in the course of dealing with an estate, you will save funds if you make, or your solicitors make, the application for probate before May this year.