Justice Secretary Robert Buckland recently announced that the government has dropped its plans to introduce a scaled probate fee first proposed in 2016. The proposed hike had been put on hold in April this year on account of more pressing items on the government’s agenda, specifically the dreaded Brexit.
In the initial proposal the fees were due to top out at £20,000 which only after some pressure was reduced to £6,000 for estates of £2 million or more, an unusually steep price for merely producing and stamping a document with a court seal. The government’s plan now includes a review of the fees in its annual assessment of charges in family and civil courts.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice said: “Fees are necessary to properly fund our world-leading courts system, but we have listened carefully to concerns around changes to those charged for probate and will look at them again as part of a wider review to make sure all fees are fair and proportionate”.
This is likely in response to widespread criticism that the high fees would go beyond mere cost recovery in order to fund other parts of the courts and tribunal service. The government had been hoping to make a profit on probate of £185 million on top of the inheritance tax already payable by many estates. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (JCSI) even warned the Lord Chancellor in 2018 that an attempt to make the fees profit making would be ultra vires, a term meaning to act beyond one’s legal power or authority which could expose the government to a challenge in court.
Obtaining the Grant of Probate or Letter of Administration is a necessary step to begin administering an estate and it seems callous for the court to try and profit from it.
We therefore suspect this is not the end of the story and that a fee hike is still on the horizon, albeit perhaps not in the same magnitude.