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Law firm calls for public action over “stealth tax” hike in probate fees

15/03/2017

A Midlands lawyer is urging people to sign a petition against Government plans to press ahead with a huge rise in probate fees from May.

FBCMB | Margret Rowe

Margaret Rowe, a Partner in the Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning team at FBC Manby Bowdler, said the hike in charges for probate applications was a “stealth tax” and could penalise the most vulnerable members of society.

There is currently a flat fee for personal probate applications of £215 (£155 through a solicitor) but this will be replaced with a tiered system from May. 

Those with an estate valued at less than £50,000 will be exempt from probate fees altogether, meaning 58 per cent of estates will have nothing to pay. 

But the fee will be £300 on estates of £50,000-£300,000; £1,000 for estates ranging from £300,000 to £500,000; £4,000 on £500,000 to £1m; then £8,000 on sums over £1m, and £20,000 on estates exceeding £2m.

Margaret, a member of the national association Solicitors for the Elderly, said: “The increase in probate fees will place a burden on families at a sensitive and distressing time and is likely to put people who are vulnerable and or elderly at risk.

“For the 62 per cent of estates that use a solicitor, probate registry performs a purely administrative role, and the increasing value of the estate has no bearing on the work undertaken. There is no more work required by the Registry where the estate is of a higher value.”

“To burden larger estates with a significantly larger fee is an unfair form of taxation – a stealth tax, in other words. For people in this situation, their property is often their primary asset, and they may have little cash to pay for higher probate fees, on top of other necessities such as inheritance tax or the use of a solicitor. "

Margaret said she was also concerned that the rocketing fees could cause people to make inappropriate decisions about estate planning before the May deadline.

“Our fear is that such clients might be persuaded to take steps to avoid probate fees, even if the effect is to leave them with insufficient assets to provide for themselves for the rest of their life. They may make sudden decisions about their estate planning because they fear being hit by this increase but live to regret it later.”

She is asking people to support the petition calling for the Government to reconsider the increase at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/188175. It currently has more than 6,000 signatures and requires 10,000 before the Government will respond.

For more information about the petition or the stealth tax, please contact Margret Rowe.

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