Plans to implement increased probate fees are being delayed as Parliament wrangles to resolve the ongoing Brexit stalemate.
Bereaved families currently pay a flat fee of up to £215 to obtain the grant of probate needed in England and Wales to administer estates worth more than £5,000.
That system was due to be replaced on 1 April 2019 by a new regime, which would set fees on a sliding scale based on the value of an estate.
But a date for a parliamentary motion in the House of Commons that would pave the way for the new probate fees to be introduced has yet to be fixed.
The new probate fees system will now kick in 21 days after the motion is passed in Parliament, with the Brexit deadlock being blamed for eating into parliamentary time.
What is probate?
When someone dies, the executor of the will needs to sort out who gets any property, money, investments or possessions from the deceased's estate.
Assuming the deceased left a will, the executor currently needs to pay £215 to get what is known in England and Wales as a grant of probate.
If no will was left, the next of kin applies for a grant of letters of administration.
The executor or next of kin then needs to obtain a grant of representation to prove their authority to administer the estate.
This is known as the probate process, which also involves gathering any assets, paying any bills, and distributing any assets in line with what's left in the will.
What are the new probate fees?
The changes will eventually abolish probate fees for estates worth less than £50,000 in England and Wales, although estates worth more than this face paying increased fees of up to £6,000.
|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|
|Source: Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 21 November 2018|
The new probate fees received approval from peers last autumn, although a separate House of Lords committee described the increased fees as a "stealth tax".
Where do you stand with probate now?
Until the terms of the UK's withdrawal from the EU are agreed by the House of Commons and Brussels, the status quo is very much maintained.
HMRC has confirmed that registries will accept probate applications for an indefinite period before the inheritance tax account has been processed.
Under this interim system, any probate application must include a note to say that the appropriate inheritance tax forms are also on the way.
Usually, to get probate in England and Wales, whoever is dealing with the estate must first submit an inheritance tax account to HMRC, which provides an inheritance tax reference number.
Probate registries usually do not accept an application for probate until the Revenue has confirmed that it has processed that account.
However, as an interim measure, probate registries will temporarily accept applications before HMRC processes them as long as assurance is given that the inheritance tax forms will follow shortly.
Will the new fees apply in Scotland?
The proposed changes to probate fees will not take effect in Scotland.
Subtle procedural differences exist in Scotland, where confirmation needs to be obtained before inheritance tax can be deducted and what's left of the estate is distributed to beneficiaries.
As well as applying for confirmation, other different probate forms may need to be completed in Scotland depending on whether the estate is worth more or less than £36,000.
Talk to us about probate.