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Sector Insights

Probate Fees – a new stealth death tax?

30.11.2018 Personal wealth, Wills & succession planning

Kieran Forsyth

Kieran Forsyth Associate

The UK government recently announced that it will increase the cost of applying for probate (the process by which the estate of a deceased person is administered) from the current, fixed figure of £155 up to an eye watering £6,000.

These new probate fees are likely to apply from April 2019 and will be calculated using a banded structure whereby the greater the value of the estate, the greater the probate fee.

It should be noted that the limit for low value estates that do not need to pay such a fee will rise from £5,000 to £50,000. Thereafter the fees will increase in steps up to a maximum £6,000 charge for those estates worth more than £2 million.

In its proposal to introduce the fees the government makes reference to the fact that the courts received less than half of their running costs for 2016/17 by way of such fees and thus an increase is necessary. However one could ask whether that deficit was the case at the Probate Registry (the Court body dealing with probates) and, if not, whether it is therefore fair for beneficiaries of estates to subsidise other Court work.

Given the size of the increase it is perhaps understandable, therefore, that the move is widely being described as a ‘stealth tax’ with an aim of targeting a revenue stream with a particularly soft underbelly. Indeed there will be a particular impact on families residing in London and the South East of the UK where the value of estates has steadily risen in recent years owing to the surge in house prices.

Contrastingly, the liquid assets of such estates have not, generally speaking, enjoyed such a meteoric rise; and, to that end, those who will be required to foot the bill of the higher probate fees (in addition to paying any inheritance tax due) may well find themselves in a situation where there simply is not enough cash immediately available to pay the tax and the fee.

If this is a cause for concern please do feel free to contact one of our team in the Ince Gordon Dadds Private Wealth department.

Thank you to Eleanor Bing, trainee solicitor in our Family and Private Client department, for her help in preparing this article.

Article authors:

Kieran Forsyth