The government were proposing to introduce a controversial new probate fee structure from April this year but it is still not clear if or when this will go ahead.

Currently, there is a simple flat fee of one or two hundred pounds for all deceased estates to obtain a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration in England and Wales. Under the proposed new charging structure, the fees will be based on the size of the deceased's net estate (disregarding certain jointly held property). Estates worth less than £50,000 will be better off as there will be no fee to pay but estates above that amount will pay more, with the top fee rising to £6,000 for estates worth £2m+.

Probate fees are entirely separate from the tax rules that apply on death and so the spouse exemption and other inheritance tax reliefs do not apply. However, the new structure looks more like a tax, as the new fees far exceed the cost of the service. The increases are being introduced to fund the wider courts and tribunals service.

The proposed new fees have been heavily criticised by the House of Lords, the charity sector and others and it is rumoured that the Labour party may insist on a full House of Commons vote before they are introduced. It has also been suggested the new fees may be limited to deaths occurring on and after the date they are introduced rather than to applications received after the changes take effect.

With April now fast approaching, a formal announcement on these changes is long overdue.