Probate fee increase and what it means for a lay executor

Probate fees increased in January 2022 to a single flat rate of £273 for all applicants.

This replaces a system that had two different fees, namely £215 for individuals applying for probate themselves and the reduced fee of £155 payable by probate professionals. This scheme encouraged the use of professionals to carry out the often complex process of obtaining a Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration and winding up a deceased’s estate.

The higher charge for individuals reflected the larger amount of work sometimes required by the Probate Registry in dealing with mistakes or incorrect applications.

Current probate fees

As of 26 January 2022, an application for a Grant of Probate will cost £273 for all applicants liable to pay. This is an increase of 76% on the fee payable by probate professionals. The increase is aimed at raising money to cover the shortfall in the current system, which was introduced in April 2014 and which operates at a loss.

The government also announced that it believes fees should be equalised for all applicants based on the principle of everyone paying the same fee for the same service. It is intended to cover the costs of the service without generating a profit.

Estates valued at £5,000 or less will still be exempt from paying a probate fee.

Justifying the increase in probate fees

The increase has been criticised, in part because it comes at a time when the system is experiencing delays in the processing of probate applications. The length of time applicants wait has reportedly increased from around four weeks to over nine weeks. This could be in part due to the closure of regional probate registries and in part due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic.

There have also been reported administrative errors as the new online centralised system replaces paper applications.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice told Which? Magazine that every penny charged would go towards the costs of processing probate applications, saying: ‘These fees will fully fund our investment in a first-class digital probate service to ensure shorter waiting times, fewer user and administrative errors and a better experience for families.’

A previous proposal of charging a fee on a sliding scale depending on the value of the estate was abandoned after it was labelled a death tax. It would have seen the wealthiest estates paying up to £6,000 for probate, a reduction in the original suggestion of fees of up to £20,000.

Applying for probate

Probate applications and estate administration can be complex and time-consuming. Some of the aspects of the work, such as calculating Inheritance Tax and preparing estate accounts, are particularly difficult and penalties can be imposed for underpayment of tax, while beneficiaries can bring a claim if the estate is not correctly administered and recorded.

For this reason, it is often advisable to speak to a probate professional to ensure that no inadvertent errors are made.

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