The death tax returns

George HodgsonThe UK government has re-introduced proposals to fund the courts service via charging higher probate fees. The proposals emerged late yesterday, a week after the budget.

While the headline charges are less extortionate than were proposed last year, for an estate of GBP300,001 – GBP500,000 the fee will rise 249 per cent to GBP750, and for a GBP1 million estate, the fee will rise to GBP4,000, an increase of 1,760 per cent (see table below).

According to 2014/15 figures, 261,500 estates went to probate, of which only 35,000 were under GBP50,000. This indicates that 85 per cent of estates, where probate applies, will therefore see an increase in fees.

Value of Estate New Fee % Change (from £215)
Up to £5,000 £0   0%
£5,000 – £50,000 £0 -100%
£50,001 – £300,000 £250 +16%
£300,001 – £500,000 £750 +249%
£500,001 – £1m £2,500 +1,063%
£1m – £1.6m £4,000 +1,760%
£1.6m – £2m £5,000 +2,226%
Over £2m £6,000 +2,691%

The new charges bear no relation to the cost of probate, and are simply another form of taxation, sneaked in through the back door.

The government has failed to explain why it is choosing to place this burden on bereaved families, many of whom will have spent months or years paying expensive care fees for their elderly relatives. It is this group which has been singled out to shoulder the cost of the courts service via this additional tax, to be paid on top of IHT and legal expenses.

The government still plans to try and introduce this measure without any proper debate via statutory instrument. STEP has obtained a legal opinion which confirms that, given the tax nature of this measure, this is an abuse of the parliamentary process, a view shared by the House of Commons Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (link below).

We will continue to press for a fairer and more transparent approach to probate fees reform.

 

George Hodgson is Chief Executive of STEP.

New probate fees: FAQ

UPDATE 21/04/2017: the Ministry of Justice has conceded that the new fee regime has been abandoned due to lack of parliamentary time. See more information.

 

Newcastle District Probate Registry has supplied the following FAQs to help practitioners implement the new probate fees.

Q. What happens in cases where there is a need for an HMRC Assessment will any delay mean I incur the higher fee?

In cases where you are required to submit an IHT 400 or any IHT document for assessment by HMRC for Inheritance tax purposes then it is possible for you to submit the appropriate forms to both HMRC and HMCTS Probate simultaneously. We will not issue your grant until the approved IHT 421 is received but we will mark your application as lodged. To assist us in not raising this as a query it would be advisable to clearly mark your application that the IHT document will follow after assessment.

Q. Do we have the actual date of implementation?

No we do not have the actual date of commencement yet. However we can assure you that on receiving that date a mail shot will be released immediately informing you of that date. HMCTS Probate would however like to work with you now to ensure that we reduce as much as possible the added burden on applications nearer that date. You can assist us in doing this by following the steps in the mail shot sent to you on Monday 6th March.

Q. How do I calculate the estate value that the fee will be charged upon?

The fee is calculated from the net value of the estate after deducting liabilities or debts from the total of assets and gifts – you can do this using the appropriate Inheritance Tax form.

  • On an Inheritance Tax Summary Online application this figure will be the figure noted in the net estate value box
  • On form IHT 205 the net estate value for fees purposes can be found at Box F
  • On form IHT 207 the net estate value for fees purposes can be found at Box H
  • On form IHT 421 the net estate value for fees purposes can be found at Box 5

Q. What is considered as a full application?

A full application for Probate purposes and therefore to qualify for the appropriate fee is defined as the following. It must include:

  • An full oath sworn by all deponents and commissioners
  • An original will and codicil(where appropriate) endorsed by all commissioners and deponents
  • The appropriate number of correct copy wills an codicils
  • An Inland Revenue account (with the exception of IHT 400’s/421’s where assessment is ongoing and it has been noted on the covering letter that it will follow)
  • All associated documents including any affidavit evidence required at the time of submission, renunciations, Powers of attorneys
  • The appropriate fee.

Upon receipt of an application in this form prior to commencement then the existing fee will be charged.

Settlers and Prelodgements are not considered as full applications and therefore submission of an oath for settling prior to commencement and a subsequent oath after commencement will result in the new fee being applied.

Q: When will the new fees be implemented – at date of death or date of application?

The new fees will apply to all applications received by the probate service on or after the implementation date of the new fees irrespective of the date of death. Any application received within working hours of the Probate Registry before the implementation date will be charged the current fee. Subject to approval of the necessary legislation by Parliament, we expect the new fees to take effect from May 2017, but the exact date will be confirmed nearer the time.

Q Is there to be any equivalent of the IHT instalment option for an asset rich / cash poor estates?

There will not be an instalment option available to pay fees. If the estate does not have enough cash to pay the fee, executors will be able to apply to the Probate Service to access a particular asset for the sole purpose of paying the fee.

Q. How does the new fee affect property held between cohabitating couples?

The law remains the same. Any jointly owned assets (e.g. property held as joint tenants) will not require probate, regardless of whether couples are married, in a civil partnership or neither. All couples are free to choose how they hold their property, and they can change to a joint ownership arrangement via the Land Registry.

HMRC takes aim at inheritance tax planning

Robin VosImagine a client comes to you looking to reduce the inheritance tax bill on his death. He cannot afford to make outright gifts, and so instead you suggest he sets up a trust for his grandchildren and makes an interest free loan to the trust. The trust will invest in a UK authorised investment fund. The client is therefore just giving away the growth in value so that, over time, as the loan is repaid and the money spent, the client’s estate will reduce. Not an uncommon situation.

Under regulations proposed by HMRC, you may well be required to report this sort of planning to HMRC under the ‘Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes’ (DOTAS) rules.

This is a serious matter. Failure to report when required to do so can lead to significant penalties for the ‘promoter’ as well as a range of other possible sanctions for both the promoter and the client.

The DOTAS regime was originally introduced in 2004 to ferret out information about marketed tax avoidance schemes. Arrangements only have to be notified if they fall within certain ‘hallmarks’. These include indicators such as whether the promoter is charging a premium fee or whether they ask clients to sign up to some sort of confidentiality agreement.

The DOTAS rules were first applied to inheritance tax in 2011. Currently they only apply to arrangements designed to get assets into a trust without paying the upfront 20 per cent lifetime inheritance tax charge.

In relation to other taxes, specific hallmarks were introduced to combat schemes in particular areas such as the use of losses, tax avoidance using financial products and attempts to get round the disguised remuneration rules for employment income.

However the proposed new regulations which will apply to inheritance tax are much wider. The starting point is that any planning which gives rise to an inheritance tax advantage will have to be notified if it contains steps which are ‘contrived or abnormal’.

The problem with inheritance tax planning is that much of what is done could be described as contrived or abnormal – ie the steps which are taken are not ones which somebody would normally take, unless they were trying to reduce their inheritance tax bill.

Targeting an entire tax with a filter based only on whether the arrangements are contrived or abnormal is a novel approach.

Whilst HMRC has promised guidance as to what it considers to be acceptable and what is not, the risk is that practitioners will be left not knowing whether what they are doing has to be notified. Many will make notifications just to be on the safe side. HMRC may well be overwhelmed with a deluge of notifications as a result.

The proposals are contained in a consultation paper issued on 20 April 2016. Anybody is free to respond to the consultation. Responses have to be submitted by 13 July 2016.

STEP will be submitting a response suggesting that the same approach should be taken for inheritance tax as with other taxes. This would mean that HMRC should identify specific areas where it sees abuse, and create hallmarks relating to those areas rather than attacking all planning which gives rise to any inheritance tax advantage.

The existing hallmark relating to attempts to get assets into trust, without paying the upfront inheritance tax charge, may not be the only area targeted. Others might include avoiding the reservation of benefit rules without incurring pre-owned assets tax, acquiring interests in excluded property settlements without falling foul of the existing anti-avoidance rules, abuse of agricultural property relief or business property relief and schemes to avoid inheritance tax ten year charges in relation to relevant property trusts.

As demonstrated by the example at the beginning of this article, the proposed regulations have the potential to affect much of the inheritance tax planning which practitioners will be dealing with on a daily basis. It certainly goes much wider than catching only abusive, marketed schemes.

The more responses HMRC receives, the more likely it is that it will understand that the regulations, as currently proposed, go too far.

 

Robin Vos TEP, a solicitor at Macfarlanes LLP in London, is chair of STEP’s UK Technical Committee