The cost of applying for probate is set to increase from Wednesday 26 January 2022 as the UK government seeks to raise an additional £20 million per year for HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).
What is probate?
Probate is the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and/or possessions (cumulatively called their “estate”) when they die. You will usually need this to be granted in order to act as the executor of someone’s will. In order to do so, you must check that requesting probate is appropriate and that you are eligible to apply for it.
There are certain circumstances where probate is not necessary. For example, you may not need to apply if the person who died had owned land, property, shares or money jointly with someone else - these items will automatically be passed to the surviving owner(s). Alternatively, if the person in question only had savings when they died, you will also not need probate.
Only certain people can apply for probate and it depends on whether or not the deceased person left behind a will. If they did, then the executors as named in the document can apply for probate. If they did not, the closest living relative can instead.
If it is determined that probate is necessary, you will need to pay a one-off fee to receive the right to manage the individual’s estate. However, the fee is only applicable if the value of the estate exceeds £5,000. If it is anything less than this, there is no fee whatsoever, and there is no need to apply for probate.
The cost of probate fees is what is set to change on 26 January 2022.
How are probate fees changing?
Currently, if the value of the estate is more than £5,000, HMCTS charges £155 for applications made by a probate professional or £215 for a personal application. From 26 January 2022, the fee for both types of application will increase to £273. This represents an increase of up to 76%.
Why are probate fees changing?
The current probate fee system was introduced in April 2014 and has been running at a loss ever since. Last summer, a Ministry of Justice report found that it cost HMCTS more to process probate applications than the fee it received from applicants, meaning the service was effectively paid for by taxpayers.
The decision to scrap the two-tiered system was made because HMCTS also determined that the difference between the fee for professional and personal applications was minimal - it estimated processing costs of £260 and £265 respectively using 2018/19 data. The new, flat £273 fee was settled on to reflect the rise in prices according to CPI (Consumer Price Index figures).
Despite the increase in cost, the new fee is decidedly different from the previous proposal from 2018, which had stipulated a sliding scale with estates valued at over £2 million incurring £6,000 in probate fees. This so-called “death tax” was ultimately scrapped in Parliament following a strong public backlash.
What if you cannot afford probate fees?
If you are eligible for probate but cannot afford the fee, the Ministry of Justice may be able to fund your application with a scheme called Help With Fees. There is strict criteria, however, so you should check thoroughly beforehand to see if you meet the following:
You will need to have relatively minimal savings of:
- Less than £3,000 if you are less than 61 years old
- Up to £16,000 if you are 61 years old and over
You need to be either on a low income (see next section) or receiving at least one of the following benefits:
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Income Support
- Universal Credit (and you earn less than £6,000 a year)
- Pension Credit (Guarantee Credit)
If you are not on any of the above benefits, you will need to be earning either:
- £1,170 or less a month before tax if you are single
- £1,345 or less a month if you have a partner
You can earn an extra £265 on top of that for each child you have.