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In this world nothing can be said to be certain…

Benjamin Franklin wrote these words in 1789. As if to celebrate their 230th anniversary the government will be raising Probate Fees substantially this year in what can only be seen as a stealth tax increase.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Probate fees are currently £215.00 for personal applicants and £155 for solicitors. Fees charged by government departments are meant to only cover the costs of the service which they provide. These fees currently cover the costs of the Probate Registries. However, the government is now to increase them substantially in order to fund the wider courts system. The new proposed fees schedule is below:

Name and description of fee Amount of fee
1 Application for a grant or resealing of a grant
On an application for a grant or resealing of a grant where the assessed value of the estate:
(a) exceeds £50,000 but does not exceed £300,000; £250
(b) exceeds £300,000 but does not exceed £500,000; £750
(c) exceeds £500,000 but does not exceed £1,000,000; £2,500
(d) exceeds £1,000,000 but does not exceed £1,600,000; £4,000
(f) exceeds £1,600,000 but does not exceed £2,000,000; £5,000
(g) exceeds £2,000,000 £6,000

Taxation should always be raised through primary legislation in Parliament (which is what the budget is) not by a minister introducing it via a Statutory Instrument, as is being done now. The government claims that raising fees from one part of the courts system to fund another part of the courts system is not a tax – I will leave you to make up your own mind. What is clear, however, is that that there is no more work involved for the Probate Registry in producing a Grant of Probate for an Estate worth £2,000,000 than £2,000. Therefore to charge £6,000 for one and £0 for the other does seem somewhat ridiculous, especially because it would be rare that an estate worth £2,000 actually needed a Grant of Probate, so it is not as though the Probate Registries are having to waste a lot of money on low-value Grants.

Most of us accept that the wealthier members of our society ought to help the poorer members, and this is certainly reflected in our taxation. However, the extent to which this ought to happen is very questionable when it is not presented as a tax, but merely a fee.

Obviously the other parts of the courts system are struggling with funding and the government has chosen not to support it through the use of general taxation – instead, they have chosen to let the dead pay for it instead. Many of us in the legal profession believe that what the government has done is ultra vires (out of powers) and therefore illegal. However, it is difficult at the moment to see who will take the Government to court.

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