I understand your concerns over the change to fees for a grant of probate. Dealing with the aftermath of the death of a loved one is a difficult process and it is only right that the service should be as easy to use as possible.
To that end, you may be pleased to know that the Government is modernising the service to ensure the user experience is as easy as possible, by making changes to the Probate Service to improve the service and experience of the user, thereby reducing the burden on those who are grieving.
These changes will include the public or their representatives being able to initiate cases online, all applicants being able to pay by credit or debit card, the swearing of an oath is being replaced with an online statement of truth which means the user doesn't have to visit the Registry in person or pay an additional fee to swear the oath in a solicitor's office and more individuals empowered to make applications themselves instead of needing to instruct and pay for solicitors.
It will be easier for people to understand whether they actually need to apply for probate or not. For 'simple' estates, where all assets pass to a spouse/civil partner, a grant of probate is often not required. There will be assisted digital support to help users interact with the digital services and this means help will be provided for those who may not necessarily have the skills or access to engage digitally.
As you have mentioned, the Government is also looking at the fee charge for grant of probate. It has long been a principle of the justice system that the users of the court service make a contribution to its upkeep. Funding the court system in this way through fees - including probate - limits the demands on the wider taxpayer. I welcome the fact that all of the income generated will be used to fund an efficient and effective courts and tribunals service, including cross-subsidising areas such as domestic violence proceedings in the family court and access to the mental health tribunal where no fees are charged. I believe this strikes the right balance between those users of the service who are able to pay and the burden on general taxpayers.
I welcome the fact that the Government initially consulted on a new banded structure in 2016. However, given the strong responses to the original proposals, Ministers are now proposing a different structure with a much lower level of fee at every band. Under the new proposals, the top fee has been reduced from £20,000 to £6,000 - and this will only be paid by estates of a value in excess of £2 million.
It is important for the courts to continue to receive the necessary funding, while ensuring that those with the smallest estates are spared the need to pay at all. Under the new proposals, the rise in estate value threshold from £5,000 to £50,000 will lift around an additional 25,000 estates out of fees altogether every year; fifty per cent of people will not pay fees at all. Of those who do pay, around 80 per cent of estates will pay £750 or less and the money raised will be invested into the courts and tribunal service. In all circumstances, no estate will ever pay more than 0.5 per cent of the value of an estate.
In reforming the fees, however, I know Minsters were concerned to ensure that those who could not afford to pay were protected, and that no one would be put in a situation whereby they were unable to meet the fees up-front. The fee will never amount to more than 0.5 per cent of the value of the estate and will be recoverable from the estate. In most cases, it is expected that banks will be able to release enough cash from the estate to pay the probate fee - HMRC figures show that the average estate is 25 per cent cash. I welcome the fact that the Government will publish guidance to help people understand the financial options available to them.