Changes to the Probate System

As you may or not be aware there are a number of changes occurring to the Grant of Probate system, from the Grant itself to the application process to the fee that gets paid.

A Grant of Probate is a court issued document that states (on a more formal basis than a Will) who the executors in an Estate are. It is what gives definitive proof that someone has the right to deal with assets of a deceased. Whilst you can deal with a large number of assets these days without requiring a Grant of Probate most estates (especially on a second death in a married couple) will require one to deal with at least some assets. Land for example always needs a Grant of Probate if you are adding any new names to the title following a death (i.e. the land is sold, or otherwise transferred on death).

The (now) old style Grant wasn’t a particularly fancy document, it was a cream piece of paper with an embossed seal of the court stating the name and date of death of the deceased along with the name and address of the executors – it then also states what the value of the estate was at the date of death (the value declared for Inheritance tax purposes). Attached to that cream Grant was a copy of the Will. You can then buy additional white copies (with the courts embossed seal), these are the copies that tend to be supplied to banks etc.

The fee for this old style of Grant (and for the time being for the new style too) was £155 if you had a solicitor applying for you (£215 if you apply in person) with 50p per additional copy that you might require.

The new document however is even less significant in appearance (not in status) and is now a white sheet of paper with a small holographic square in the lower right corner. The document still sates the details of the deceased and the executors but has no embossed seal or fresh ink of any sort – it is just run through a printer. You no longer have a copy of the Will attached and whilst you can still buy additional copies of the Grant you now end up with lots of documents indistinguishable from the “top copy”.

As you may have heard the fee structure is also set to change, this change in fee is coincidental to the change in design but the two have come in side by side. The new fee scheme was meant to be in force from April 1st 2019, however there has been a lot of discussion of whether it is a fee or a “stealth tax” and the Labour Party have stated they will be objecting to the new structure. This has meant a debate has had to be timetabled in Parliament. With the ongoing Brexit debates parliamentary time is at a premium and no date has been set to discuss this issue. This means that for the time being the old fees are still in place.

The new fee structure is a sliding scale based on the value of the estate where the vast majority of the fees are higher than the current fees (some being substantially higher). This is the application fee you pay for a top copy Grant of Probate, the fee of 50p per additional copy will still apply and there is a fee of £10 if you wish to obtain a copy of the Will (that used to be attached to the old style Grant of Probate but not the new).

Aside from those changes mentioned above an on-line application system is being trialled in some areas of the country along with a restructuring of the Probate Registry’s themselves. All of this combined has led to a fairly large backlog on issuing of the Grant’s. It used to be that they would be issued within 2 weeks of an application being made but at the time of writing this article, it is closer to 2-3 months and we have no indication of how long this “delay” will last.

Written by Glenn Blair – Bates Wells & Braithwaite – 01787 880440

Glenn Blair

Glenn joined Bates Wells & Braithwaite in 2009 and gained experience across the firm before qualifying as a solicitor in November 2015. He has a law degree from the University of East Anglia and took the Legal Practice Course at the College of Law, London.

Glenn is part of the firm’s Wills, Trusts and Probate department and specialises in wills, powers of attorney and the administration of estates.

Away from work, Glenn takes a keen interest in watching and playing various sports and is a long-term season ticket holder at his local football club, Colchester United. A lot of his spare time is also spent enjoying his young family.