Probate fees are increasing and a new death tax is starting
Assured Wealth and Estate Planning guide to the increased fee level and how forward planning can mitigate the new fees
What is probate?
When someone dies, you need to obtain the legal right to deal with their property, money and possessions, and to do so you need a grant of representation, which is commonly known as ‘probate’.
When is probate not needed?
Usually you won’t need to apply for probate if the estate does not include land, property or shares, if it is passing to a surviving spouse or civil partner because it was held in joint names or if the estate is valued at less than £5,000. However, each financial institution has its own rules and may still require a grant of probate certificate.
The new fees will apply to all applications received by the probate service on or after the date it is introduced in April 2019, irrespective of the date of death.
What is happening to probate fees?
In November 2018, the government announced that probate fees in England and Wales will change from April 2019. They are moving from a fixed fee to a sliding scale, where fees increase with the value of your estate.
This will replace the current flat fees of £155 if you apply through a solicitor, or £215 for a personal application. The initial proposal to link probate fees to the value of the estate was published in February 2016 and attracted overwhelming opposition. Despite overwhelming opposition and criticism from the legal profession the Ministry of Justice announced, on the 5th November 2018, that the new system will be brought in from April 2019.
The good news is that the lower limit for probate has been increased from £5,000 to a more realistic level of £50,000. This is long overdue and will help many people avoid the stress, time and cost of probate.
The bad news is that the new fees are effectively another tax that everyone else will need to pay when they die. It has commonly been described as both a new “death tax” and a new “stealth tax”.
The new probate fee structure as of April 2019, will be as follows:
Value of Estate
% Increase (from £215)
Up to £5,000
£5,000 – £50,000
£85 or up 40%
£300,001 – £500,000
£535 or up 249%
£500,001 – £1m
£2,285 or up 1063%
£1m – £1.6m
£3,785 or up 1761%
£1.6m – £2m
£4,785 or up 2226%
£5,785 or up 2691%
What can you do to reduce these fees?
Applying for probate takes time as you need to gather in documents and all the relevant information regarding the value of the estate to ensure any inheritance tax obligations are correctly accounted for. If you are very recently bereaved, you should proceed to submit a full application for probate as quickly as possible and before the new fees are implemented.
Is there any way of legitimately avoiding the new probate fees?
Yes, there is; any assets that are held in a lifetime trust are held in the names of the trustees of your trust. As a result, they do not form part of your estate when you pass away. This has two financial advantages:
- The assets are not part of your estate for the new probate fee.
- The assets do not need to go through the formal probate process, potentially saving you legal fees of professional probate, which can be as high as 4% to 5 % of your estate value but as low as 1% to 2%.
Even on a relatively modest estate, with a £350,000 house and £150,000 of savings and investments that’s savings on probate (at 1%) on first death of about £3,750 and second death of about £8,500.
Are there any other benefits of setting up a trust during my lifetime?
Yes, there are lots. Most people want to protect each other during their lifetime and then maximise the wealth passing down their bloodline to their love ones. As well as mitigating probate fees, legal costs and delay of probate any assets held in a lifetime trust should also be protected from: –
Sideways disinheritance, where your children are disinherited
Make much better provision for your loved ones by avoiding a beneficiary being disinherited as a result of:
- Marriage and divorce
- Early death and sideways disinheritance
- Financial issues / insolvency
- Generational Inheritance Tax
Lifetime trusts have been used for over 700 years to protect family wealth. You can make sure your wealth passes to your beneficiaries but need to plan ahead to avoid a myriad of threats. Under the terms of the Trust Deed (the trust rulebook) you retain full control over all aspects of the trust, during your lifetime. This can be a complicated area and you should take specialist estate planning advice.
If you would like to know how to protect your family from “death taxes” call our adviser team on: 01925 396122 to book a FREE review at a time and place to suit you. Or complete the contact form and a member of our team will call you.