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Law Society criticises Ministry of Justice plans to increase fees for probate applications

LawSoc

When someone dies, the executors of the deceased's estate can be required to get a grant of probate. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced plans to standardise the fees charged for the application fee.

Currently, probate fees are £155 for applications made by professionals and £215 for applications made by lay-people. Professionals are often solicitors instructed to act for the executor or the estate.

Ministry of Justice

The MoJ has proposed one probate fee of £273 for all applications, whether made by a professional or not. This would result in an increase of £118 for applications made by professionals and £58 for applications made by lay-people.

President of the Law Society Stephanie Boyce stated that "While we support the MoJ's overall aim to make a simpler, more streamlined process for users of the probate service, and we understand that funds are needed to facilitate this, we do question why the UK government has decided to increase fees at this time."

Online applications 

Probate applications moved online for most applications in 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic, caused substantial delays to the process resulting in people waiting an average of 12-14 weeks to receive grants of probate or letters of administration. The Law Society has stated this is unacceptable.

These delays have put further strain on families trying to administer their loved one's estates at an already difficult time. The Law Society has also pointed out that property sales have been impacted by the delays.

Profit or not?

The Ministry of Justice has stressed that the proposed increase in probate fees would not generate profit for the government and the proposals are significantly different from the increase in probate fees which was scrapped in 2019. This proposal would have resulted in bereaved families having to pay up to £6,000 for grants and were abandoned following intense criticism.

Timing

The government have stated that it currently costs HM Courts & Tribunals Service more to process applications than it receives in fees and the increase in fees would generate between £23m and £25m each year from 2022 for HM Courts & Tribunals Service which has been stated to have a current deficit of £85m for the service. However, the proposals to increase the fees come at a time when users of the service are experiencing substantial delays as well as issues with errors on grants and logging in to the online system.

On the matter, Stephanie Boyce further stated "It is vital that HMCTS addresses the service issues as a matter of urgency and makes the necessary improvements to provide a service which both legal professionals and citizens have confidence in, before the new fee is introduced." "The UK government should also implement a minimum service level standard for applications. If the service drops below that standard on an individual application, then there should be an automatic reimbursement of a percentage of the fee."

Perhaps the increase in probate fees would be met with less criticism if it were proposed at a time when the service being paid for was not causing severe delays to the administration of estates and putting additional strain on grieving families.

More information

If you require any further information on probate, please contact our private client team here.

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