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Huge Increase in Probate Fees Shelved

Brexit Turmoil Delivers Reprieve for Bereaved Families

At last, a tiny bright spot amongst the relentless Brexit related misery.

In a reprieve for bereaved families, plans by the Ministry of Justice to drastically increase the cost of applying for a Grant of Probate have been delayed, largely due to Brexit.

It currently costs bereaved families a flat fee of £215 - or £155 if represented by a solicitor - to apply for a Grant of Probate, which is the document they need in order to deal with the assets left behind by a deceased loved one. The Ministry of Justice was due, on 1st April 2019, to introduce a sliding fee scale, tied to the value of the assets left.   

What was supposed to happen on April 1st?

The proposed new minimum fee, for estates containing at least £50,000, was to be £250. Estates leaving £300,000 or more would be charged £750 and estates exceeding £500,000 would face a sharp rise to £2,500. Still larger estates would face quite eyewatering increases. A Probate fee of £4,000 would be levied on estates worth £1,000,000 or more and the maximum possible fee would be £6,000, for estates exceeding £2,000,000.

This caused considerable consternation amongst recently bereaved families and their legal representatives. Many have succumbed in recent months to great pressure to prepare their complex paperwork quickly in order to submit their probate application before 1st April and beat the fee hike.

However, the plans for the overhaul have been repeatedly delayed, against a background of widespread political opposition to the proposal, dubbed by many commentators as a “stealth death tax”. The idea was first mooted back in 2016 but abandoned just before the 2017 General Election in the face of vehement opposition. After the election, the Ministry of Justice tweaked its proposals before putting them to the vote once again.

What's Brexit got to do with it?

In early 2019 a parliamentary committee voted narrowly in favour of the proposed increases, but Labour warned it would oppose the plan when put before the Commons. The Shadow Justice Secretary said that the government should stop trying to sneak these proposals through the “parliamentary back door” and demanded a full parliamentary debate.

This is when Brexit – for once! – has actually come to the rescue.  Labour opposition in the Commons would result in a division, and in the current climate of party indiscipline and Brexit-related rebellion, the government reasonably fears it would not win the day.

So, it appears the plans for this “death tax” may be on hold, until the blessed future day when all the Brexit related uncertainty is finally over. Which has to be a good thing, because the proposed fee increase has been widely condemned by consumers and legal professionals alike. It costs the Ministry of Justice exactly the same to issue a Grant of Probate whether the estate is worth £50,000 or £2,000,000. Charging more for larger estates is just an inheritance tax surcharge by the back door - in effect, a tax on grief.

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