Changes to probate fees in 2019


The Government is introducing a new levy on more than 200,000 estates even though they will not pay inheritance tax (IHT). From April, people who inherit more than £50,000 will have to pay the levy before the deceased’s money or property is distributed. It will apply to all estates – even those left to a widow or widower who is exempt from IHT.

The new fees, which will apply only in England and Wales, will be charged on estates worth more than £50,000 before the court will give the executors ‘probate’, which allows them to collect and distribute the property, money and possessions of the person who has died.

What are the probate fees?

At the moment probate costs a flat fee of £155 when a solicitor is involved and £215 if it is done personally. But from April it will rise on a sliding scale – for example, £750 for estates where there is a typical home and some savings, to a fee of £6,000 for estates worth more than £2 million. The levy is generally 0.25-0.5% of the estate. The Law Society has called the plans ‘an inheritance tax by stealth’, adding ‘the cost to the courts does not change whether the size of the estate is £10,000 or £1 million’.

How to reduce IHT on your estate

The Government tried to introduce a similar change in 2017, but it met with considerable opposition from lawyers and MPs, and was dropped when the general election was called. Now – like a zombie – the death tax is back.

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Find a probate registry

No IHT to pay, but new probate fee to pay

Although the amounts are lower – in 2017 the maximum charge was planned to be £20,000 – the new fee will still be a shock to many people who inherit a house and savings that are well below the threshold for IHT but will nevertheless face this new levy of £4,000 if they inherit a house in an expensive part of the UK. Around 200,000 estates will pay the charge even though they will not pay IHT. From April 2019, the IHT threshold begins at £475,000 if the deceased leaves the family home to a child or grandchild; in some cases it is double that. But the higher probate fee will be due on estates as low as £50,001.

The charges will range from £250 to £6,000 depending on the size of the net estate after debts have been paid. The Government estimates it will bring in an extra £145 million, which will be used to subsidise other court services.

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Who needs probate?

When someone dies the executors have to deal with the property, money, investments and possessions, work out the value of the estate and pay it to the beneficiaries. Normally they will apply for what is called a grant of representation from the probate registry. The grant is needed so that the assets can be released to the estate.

If there is only jointly owned property that passes to a spouse or civil partner, then probate will not normally be required. Estates below £50,000 may not need probate unless the deceased owned shares, investments, property or land in their own name. Banks may release cash to the estate without probate up to a limit which they set themselves, often well below £50,000.

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Under the new rules, estates worth below £50,000 will pay nothing to get probate – at the moment the limit is £5,000. The Government says that will save 25,000 estates up to £215 each. But more than 200,000 will be paying more – some in the thousands – just because they inherit a valuable home.

Probate fees are due before the grant is issued and before the money in the estate is available. People with a poor credit rating may find it hard to borrow the money to pay the fees. The Government says it will issue a document showing how this money might be raised and what help there might be for those who cannot do so.

Applying for probate and grant of probate explained

Why the change?

The Government says it spends £1.6 billion running the court service but raises less than half that in fees. The extra £145 million from this new tax will reduce the cost of the courts to other taxpayers.

When the Government consulted on the original plans in 2016 most respondents opposed the plans and fewer than one in 12 fully supported them. Justice Minister Lucy Frazer says that she has ‘listened closely to concerns’ about the earlier proposals and that fees ‘will only be paid by those who can afford them’.

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The rest of the UK

If Parliament approves the fees they will begin in England and Wales for probate applications made from April. In Scotland the process is different and the executors have to apply for what is called ‘confirmation’. The fee starts on estates over £50,000 and is £256 for estates up to £250,000 and £512 above that. In Northern Ireland, the fee will be no more than £249 from April.

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Probate fees in England and Wales from April 2019

The new fees are based on the net value of the estate after debts but before inheritance tax is paid.

Value of estate Current fee
New fee
No of estates per year
Up to £5,000  £0  £0  241,000

£5,001 to £50,000 

£155/£215 

£0  23,000

£50,001 to £300,000 

£155/£215  £250  126,000

£300,001 to £500,000 

£155/£215  £750  59,000

£500,001 to £1m

£155/£215   £2,500  30,000
Over £1m to £1.6m  £155/£215  £4,000  5,000

Over £1.6m to £2m

 £155/£215 

£5,000  1,500

Over £2m

 £155/£215

 £6,000  2,500

Source: Ministry of Justice November 2018 and Freedom of Information response August 2017.

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