Affluent families in England and Wales face paying probate charges of up to £6,000 from this month after ministers confirmed it as a fee rather than a tax.
Families have been used to paying flat fees of up to £215 to obtain the grant of probate needed in England and Wales to administer estates worth more than £5,000.
Critics had labelled the move as a “stealth tax”. Taxes are usually introduced in parliamentary bills, before going through a committee stage, and being voted on by MPs and Lords.
Ministers, however, circumnavigated this by classifying the charges as a fee, which saw the legislation narrowly approved by MPs and passed as a statutory instrument.
Instead of the flat rate, which is in place until 5 April 2019, the proposed system sets fees on the following sliding scale based on the value of an estate.
|Value of estate before inheritance tax||Proposed fee|
|Up to £50,000 or exempt from requiring a grant of probate||£0|
|£50,000 – £300,000||£250|
|£300,000 – £500,000||£750|
|£500,000 – £1m||£2,500|
|£1m – £1.6m||£4,000|
|£1.6m – £2m||£5,000|
The probate changes have been in the pipeline for at least two years but were scuppered by Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to call a snap general election in June 2017.
Back then, the proposed maximum charge on estates worth more than £2 million was £20,000.
Around 200,000 estates are expected to be liable to pay the new probate charges, despite being exempt from inheritance tax.
Lucy Frazer, minister of justice, said:
“The reform of the [probate] service aims to reduce the burden on applicants, by providing a more efficient and simpler application process.
“By raising the estate value threshold from £5,000 to £50,000, we will be lifting around 25,000 estates annually out of fees altogether.
“For those who do pay, around 80% of estates will pay £750 or less.”