The Ministry of Justice has announced that its plans to change the charging structure for Probate Fees are to be scrapped for now, as there is not enough time to get the legislation through Parliament ahead of the General Election.
The Draft Order was put before and passed by a Commons Legislation Committee on Tuesday (for those interested, the Hansard report may be found here. I understand that from there the matter was to be passed to the House of Lords.
At the beginning of the week, it appeared that the Government may just have had enough time to push the plans through, given a smooth passage through Parliament. The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners reported only yesterday that, in association with The Law Society, they had obtained a legal opinion from Richard Drabble QC as to whether the Probate Fees Order exceeded the Lord Chancellor’s powers and in his view he believes that they do. This echoes concerns regarding the Draft Order that were raised by the House of Commons Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments at the end of March. The Committee described the fees as a ‘tax’, as the amounts to be charged far exceeded the costs of providing the Probate Service. We would ordinarily expect a fee to reflect the cost of the service provided.
So today’s news that the plans are to be scrapped is very welcome to Probate Solicitors and many of our clients. The profession had very real concerns that the proposed fees could encourage people to give away assets, making themselves vulnerable, or enter into costly arrangements to avoid the Probate process. However, of course, we do not know whether or not the plans are likely to be resurrected post the General Election. I would advise anyone dealing with an estate and who needs to obtain a Grant of Representation from the Probate Registry not to delay matters without good reason.
If you would like advice regarding the Probate process, or assistance to obtain a Grant or Representation or to administer an estate, please contact myself or one my colleagues in Berwin’s Life Team who will be happy to assist.