Probate fees: what’s all the fuss about?

probate fees,family,inheritance

Updated 5 November 2018

When someone dies, you need to get the legal right to deal with their property, money and possessions, and to do so you need to apply for ‘probate’ (known as confirmation in Scotland).

In England and Wales, probate fees are again under debate. In late 2016 the government announced that probate fees would change to a banded system where fees would increase with the value of the estate. These changes, which would have meant fees for the largest estates rising to as much as £20,000, were shelved shortly before the spring 2017 election. Now the government has returned to the idea, though with fees lower than those originally proposed. No date has been set for the change.

The new proposal for fees favours estates valued under £50,000, which will not be charged. For larger estates, though, the fees increase substantially. Instead of the current flat fee of £215 for a personal application (£155 if you apply through a solicitor), estates over £50,000 will need to pay £250, and those of £300,001 – £500,000 will pay £750. The largest estates will need to pay as much as £6,000 (see table below).

Value of Estate New Fee % Change (from £215)
Up to £5,000 £0   0%
£5,000 – £50,000 £0 -100%
£50,001 – £300,000 £250  +16%
£300,001 – £500,000 £750 +249%
£500,001 – £1m £2,500 +1,063%
£1m – £1.6m £4,000 +1,760%
£1.6m – £2m £5,000 +2,226%
Over £2m £6,000 +2,691%

Criticism of the new probate fees

The proposal to link probate fees to the value of the estate attracted overwhelming opposition when it was first mooted.  A number of bodies, including STEP, questioned the legality of way this fee structure was being brought in, given that it looks very like a tax and should therefore be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny, rather than brought in through a Statutory Instrument. This was also highlighted by the House of Commons Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The same concerns continue to apply to the latest proposals.

Don’t delay

If you are currently applying for probate, or about to apply, and the value of the estate is more than £50,000, you should file your application without delay.

Applying for probate can take time as you need to gather a number of documents and all the relevant information regarding the value of the estate to ensure any inheritance tax obligations are correctly accounted for, so the sooner you get started, the more likely it will be that you avoid any new fees that may be brought in.