A huge increase in Probate Court fees is planned for May 2017.  Subject to parliamentary approval, a fee structure based on the value of an estate is being introduced with the maximum fee of £20,000 for estates of more than £2m. This will affect bereaved families and charity beneficiaries and, in the short term, place pressure on executors, solicitors, HMRC and the Courts Service itself as people rush to apply for probate before the new fees take effect.

Value of estate (before inheritance tax)Proportion of all estates in England and WalesProposed Fee
Up to £50,000 or exempt from requiring a grant of probate58%£0
Exceeds £50,000 but does not exceed £300,00023%£300
Exceeds £300,000 but does not exceed £500,00011%£1,000
Exceeds £500,000 but does not exceed £1m6%£4,000
Exceeds £1m but does not exceed £1.6m1%£8,000
Exceeds £1.6m but does not exceed £2m0.3%£12,000
Above £2m0.5%£20,000

Liz Neale, Private Wealth Partner, commented:

‘It is very disappointing that the Ministry of Justice has decided to proceed with its proposed reform to the fees for grants of probate despite the response to the consultation being overwhelmingly negative. The concerns expressed about the difficulty in funding these fees, which need to be paid in addition to the funeral expenses and inheritance tax before the executors can access the deceased’s assets, seem to have been ignored. The fees are also disproportionate to the amount of work required by the Courts Service to issue a grant of probate.

The change is expected to come in during May 2017 and so leaves little time for those in the process of preparing a probate application to finalise and submit it, particularly if inheritance tax is payable, before the change takes effect.’

Nicola Evans, Charities Counsel, commented:

‘It is worrying that the new fees, effectively a probate tax, would have the effect of by-passing the well-established exemptions and reliefs in the inheritance tax regime – this will impact unfairly where there are charity (or other exempt) beneficiaries of an estate.  The Ministry of Justice has not costed the potential loss to charities.’