What is probate?
When someone dies, you need to get the legal right to deal with their property, money and possessions, and to do so you need a grant of representation, which is known as ‘probate’.
When is probate not needed?
Usually you won’t need to apply for probate if the estate does not include land, property or shares; if it is passing to a surviving spouse or civil partner because it was held in joint names (e.g. a joint bank account, or a home owned as ‘joint tenants’); or if the estate is valued at less than £15,000.
Each financial institution has its own rules, however, and may still require you to apply for a grant even if the value is under this threshold.
What is happening to probate fees?
In February 2017, the government announced that probate fees in England and Wales will change in May 2017 to a banded system, where fees increase with the value of the estate, replacing the current flat fees of £155 if you apply through a solicitor, or £215 for a personal application.
The proposal to link probate fees to the value of the estate was published in February 2016 and attracted overwhelming opposition. Nonetheless, the new system has been brought in, and was confirmed in the March 2017 Budget.
The fee structure as of May will therefore be as follows:
|Value of Estate
||% Change (from £215)
|Up to £5,000
|£5,000 – £50,000
|£50,001 – £300,000
|£300,001 – £500,000
|£500,001 – £1m
|£1m – £1.6m
|£1.6m – £2m
When in May does the change kick in?
The government has not yet confirmed the exact date in May from which these changes will apply. The new fees will apply to all applications received by the probate service on or after this still-to-be-announced date in May, irrespective of the date of death. Probate registries have said that any application received within working hours of the Probate Registry before the implementation date will be charged the current fee.
What can you do?
Applying for probate takes time as you need to gather a number of documents and all the relevant information regarding the value of the estate to ensure any inheritance tax obligations are correctly accounted for. If you are very recently bereaved it may therefore be very difficult to submit a full application for probate before the new fees are implemented.
If, however, you have already started the process, you may want to try and get your probate application in before May to ensure you pay the current flat fee.
If you are applying for probate through a solicitor, your solicitor will be aware of the situation and will be doing everything they can to try to get your probate application lodged with the probate registry before the new fee structure applies.
If you are making a personal application, you should be aware of a few important points:
Where can you get more information?
The government has not published any public information on this issue beyond the consultation documents:
In the absence of public-facing information from the government, we will continue to publish updates on this, as and when they are announced, here on the STEP Blog.
If you have any specific questions about your probate application please contact your local probate registry.
George Hodgson is Chief Executive of STEP