Tomorrow is the deadline for companies and individuals to respond to the consultation to reform Grant of Probate fees.
Currently, executors pay a flat fee of £215 for probate regardless of the size of estate. However, under the proposed legislation a sliding scale of fees will be introduced, capped at £20,000 for estates worth more than £2 million.
Kings Court Trust has previously highlighted that this proposal could result in ordinary families facing significant additional costs at a time of great stress, we also question the saving figures quoted by the Ministry of Justice.
Below is our formal response which we have submitted to the Ministry of Justice.
Kings Court Trust has read about the proposed increase in probate fees with concern. While estates of a lower value will benefit from the removal of a fee altogether, many ordinary families will be faced with significant additional costs at a time of great stress.
The Government states that they hope to raise £250m a year through the revised pricing structure and argue that the “proposals would lift 30,000 estates out of paying the probate fee altogether”. However, we would suggest that with increasing property values pushing up the value of many estates, more ‘ordinary’ families will now be subject to higher charges than ever before.
Dealing with the death of a loved one can be an expensive process. The probate fee, along with other expenses such as a funeral costs, normally have to be paid up front. This means that most families need to cover these expenses out of their own pocket, prior to any money from the estate being distributed. We are concerned that grieving families may struggle to meet this additional cost, particularly if the estate consists of assets such as property which could take months to sell. With the average cost of a funeral having increased to around £4,000, a substantial rise in probate fees could cause significant cash flow problems for families at an already difficult time.
Although the consultation takes this into consideration, the suggestion that the majority of families will be able to release cash from the estate or take out a loan against the estate prior to receiving the Grant of Probate is somewhat short sighted. This may not always be possible due to the make-up of the estate and the process of needing to apply for credit would almost certainly cause additional stress for families.
The consultation paper suggests that the Government will raise £250 million a year from the introduction of the new fee structure. We would question whether the proposals will actually generate this saving as we believe that there is a shortfall in the figures and would welcome a more detailed breakdown of the financial implications.
To summarise our position, we feel that the introduction of this proposal will result in an increased financial burden for ordinary families at a time of great distress. The work required to issue the Grant of Probate is exactly the same whether an estate is valued at £200,000 or £2,000,000. Therefore, we doubt whether the Ministry of Justice could argue that this proposal constitutes ‘access to justice’ as detailed within the Legal Services Act.