Lawrence Stephens

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Another problem with the government’s ‘death tax’?

January 2019

The Ministry of Justice’s controversial proposal to radically increase fees for administering probate has hit another snag, as it has emerged that the government has not assessed the costs attached and the practical application of such an alteration.

Currently, the cost of administering probate for estates valued at over £5,000 stands at either a flat £215, or £155 for individuals applying via a solicitor. The Ministry of Justice’s proposal would ensure that estates valued below £50,000 have no probate costs, but those above the threshold would see significant rises, with estates worth over £2 million incurring an increase of almost £6,000.

The much-criticised move has been described as a ‘death tax,’ and now, under questioning from Conservative MP Laurence Robertson, the justice minister Lucy Fraser QC admitted that the Ministry of Justice “has not made any assessment specifically on the costs to HMCTS”, with regard to the proposed reforms. Particularly in this current economic and political climate, the suggestion that there has not been adequate preparation for a contentious legal reform due to come into effect in only a few months, makes the proposals even more unpopular.

The process to obtain a grant of representation is not likely to require the probate registry to do any additional work or require extra resources, however it appears the Ministry of Justice has made limited consideration as to how this will work in practice.

Although the government claims that the change in fee structure represents a “fair and more progressive way to pay for probate services,” their lack of specific assessments and limited consideration on the effect of its implementation has seen them receive significant criticism, particularly as property — generally the primary point of value in estates — is already covered by inheritance tax. The weight of criticism towards the proposed probate reforms means MPs are set to consider a statutory instrument before they are due to come into effect April 1st.