Press reports appear to confirm that the Non-Contentious Probate Fees Order 2017 is not being actively pursued at this time.
The Order, which would have given effect to probate fee increases, as discussed in an earlier article had been rushed through the House of Commons on 19 April 2017. The Ministry of Justice has stated that there is now not enough time for the legislation to go through parliament ahead of the general election.
A bulletin from the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) suggests that they too have received confirmation that the plans are now scrapped (or have at least been put on hold) in the form of a notice from the Newcastle District Probate Registry, stating:
'There is not enough time for the Statutory Instrument which would introduce the new fee structure to complete its passage through parliament before it is dissolved ahead of the general election. This is now a matter for the next government.'
Given the speed with which the government took the Statutory Instrument through the Commons on Wednesday 19 April 2017, there were real concerns that the measure was going to be pushed through with little debate or scrutiny.
As late as 20 April 2017 the Ministry of Justice appeared to maintain that the government was still planning to proceed with the probate fee proposals as originally circulated. A move which would have seen fees rise from £155 or £215 to up to £20,000 for estates valued at more than £2m in England and Wales as from May this year.
Earlier this month, a committee of MPs and peers questioned whether the changes were legal, suggesting that the new charges appeared to have the hallmarks of taxes rather than fees. That issue remains unresolved and official spokespeople have so far declined to say if the scheme would be resurrected if the prime minister is re-elected with a significant majority, as seems to be broadly expected. So it may be a case of 'watch this post-election space'.
In the meantime, the abandonment, even temporarily, of the planned increases will come as a huge relief for bereaved families and their legal advisors. Should the Ministry of Justice reconsider these proposals after 8 June 2017, the hope is that it will pay due regard to the strong legal opinion that any increase in probate fees on the scale envisaged in the proposals should not be introduced without fresh legislation.