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Home » Latest News » Probate fees increase prompts warning from leading law firm

Probate fees increase prompts warning from leading law firm

Probate fees increase prompts warning from leading law firm
“ The high probate fees may well make it difficult for these estates to find the money without selling off the assets left to their loved ones ”

Major changes to probate fees could hit bereaved family and friends in the pocket and leave them vulnerable to cold-callers at a stressful time, according to specialists at a leading regional law firm.

Lawyers in the wills, trusts and probate department at Bridge McFarland warn that executors trying to settle a deceased person’s estate should beware of the increase in probate fees which will take effect in May.

The changes will ensure that more people will be able to secure a grant of probate without having to pay a fee. But where fees are incurred they will increase significantly, making the procedure attractive to unqualified cold callers trying to cash in.

A grant of probate is required to access and transfer money in savings, houses and other assets in the event of a death. The current system imposes a flat probate fee of £215 on any estate with a value of £5,000 or more.

In May, that threshold will increase with the result that no one will pay a probate fee on an estate worth less than £50,000. But beyond that, the fees will start at £300 on a sliding scale which will see estates worth £2 million or more carry a fee of £20,000.

The changes are expected to generate an estimated £265 million a year to help the government reduce the burden on the taxpayer of running the courts and tribunals service, but lawyers are calling for fairness first.

Critics say that the work of the Probate Registry is almost the same regardless of the estate value, so people should not pay more for large estates which may also be liable for inheritance tax.

Christina Starling, senior solicitor at Bridge McFarland, highlighted concerns about estates, for example farms and old historically significant homes, which are worth a lot of money but don’t necessarily have financial fluidity.

She said: “The high probate fees may well make it difficult for these estates to find the money without selling off the assets left to their loved ones, and we are exploring other options ready to meet the needs of clients who are likely to be deterred from applying for probate if it can possibly be avoided.

“Bridge McFarland’s private client lawyers have been considering the available options such as placing property into trusts, joint ownership between spouses or other members of the family and generally arranging people’s property and money so that, on death, probate will not be needed at all.”

Jacqui Johnson, head of the wills, trusts and probate department, said the changes will signal an opportunity for unqualified, unregulated and expensive cold-callers.

She said: “There are a great many firms of so-called advisors, some of whom charge up to three times as much for the equivalent work done by a suitably qualified, regulated and insured solicitor.

“These organisations make a practice of cold-calling people, especially those of retirement age who may be vulnerable because of the stress and confusion of the situation.

“Some cold-callers will wrongly state that there are no solicitors locally who are qualified or experienced in the field. This is not the case as in my department alone there are two members of the Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners and one of the Solicitors for the Elderly.

“These are specialist quality groups within the legal profession, who will be happy to provide an estimate of costs and unbiased advice. I would advise anyone thinking about probate arrangements to check with qualified, experienced advisors and particularly with solicitors.”