Turning probate fees into a stealth tax looks like profiteering on the bereaved

Recent news that the Ministry of Justice is set to increase probate fees by as much as 9,200% in May 2017 has provoked reactions ranging from consternation to outrage.

Once implemented, the change will see executors of an estate worth £600,000 being charged £4,000 for a grant of probate. Compare this to the flat fee of £215 currently charged for all those grants of probate where an estate is valued at more than £5,000, and it is easy to see why the change is so unwelcome.

There is solace for some in that charges are to be abolished on estates worth less than £50,000. However, anyone expecting to leave, inherit or administer an estate worth more than this figure must expect to pay a sum that is calculated on the value of that estate. This sum will rise anywhere between 40% and, as already stated, 9,200% on the current fee.

The Government, which stands accused of having ignored representations from legal respondents to its consultation on the matter, now faces the wrath of the general public. Some commentators have called it a stealth tax on the bereaved, and others have pointed out that it amounts to a second tax on assets that are already going to be taxed through inheritance tax. Whatever one’s view, it is difficult to argue that this is anything other than a Governmental effort to turn the relatively simple clerical exercise of signing a few forms into a cash cow. Whether that amounts to profiteering, or a stealth tax, on the bereaved is a matter of opinion but it is almost certainly a cautionary sign. If the Government gets away with this, it may prove to be the thin end of an unpalatable wedge as further fresh sources of Treasury income are sought.

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