Probate charges need to be re-assessed, says Law Society

15 April, 2016

The law society has called on the government not to treat the probate service as a cash cow by charging ‘excessive fees’ to bereaved individuals.

Earlier this year the Ministry of Justice announced proposals to charge probate fees of up to £20,000 on the highest-value estates, which the law society has responded to with its strong response.

The proposed rise in fees could leave beneficiaries of the most valuable estates – worth over £2 million paying £20,000, as much as 129 times more than current levels.

The Society feels the move might force more people to undertake probate themselves rather than take legal advice or instruct a solicitor to undertake the probate process, which it has described as “complex”.

The Society said it was also ‘pre-emptive’ to remove the reduced fees for solicitor applications ahead of any improvements or simplification to the probate system.

It went on to say that while in principal they didn’t disagree with charging probate fees based on the value of the estate, it described the proposed top fee as “excessively inflated”. It also suggested fees should be based on the value of estates after inheritance tax had been calculated and paid.

The Society said: “It is unfair and discriminatory to expect the bereaved to fund/subsidise other parts of the court and tribunals service. Court fees are a necessary source of funding but should not be charged over and above the cost of the specific service.”

Some  firms currently assist executors by paying probate fees as a disbursement, but the Society suspects that if the fee increases were introduced, firms might have to withdraw this ‘goodwill gesture’ and charge clients more for probate services.

The Law Society also fears that higher fees could encourage some individuals to reduce the value of their estate to lessen their probate fee or avoid it altogether.

“Court closures and court fee increases in recent years have produced income and savings, but we have yet to see any tangible improvement to the court systems,” added the Law Society.

“Fees obtained by the probate service should be designed to cover the cost of running and improving the probate service and should not be siphoned off to fund other areas of the court system.”

Probate and estate services are often an important part of a firm’s regular income. The changes being proposed to the system could see consumers paying far more for probate services, which could potentially put them off instructing a solicitor or choosing a cheaper, but less effective option.

While the measures are yet to be confirmed, it may be best to speak to Watson Buckle to ensure your firm is fully prepared for any changes that may occur as a result of these changes. To find out how our team can help you, please contact us.