Lawyer urges action against ‘death tax’

A leading solicitor is urging local residents to write to their MP rejecting government proposals which could see a 9,000% rise in ‘death fees’.

John-Paul Dennis, partner at Kirwans law firm which has offices across Merseyside, says the Ministry of Justice’s plans to overhaul probate fees could leave bereaved individuals struggling to gain control of their loved ones’ assets and affairs.

The proposals are due to come into force from May this year, subject to parliamentary approval, and will see a huge hike in the fees charged by the government’s Probate Registry to hand over the rights to deal with a deceased person’s estate.

Currently, probate fees are fixed at £155 if applying through a solicitor, and £215 if going through the process unaided.

Under the new plans, which 97% of respondents to the 2016 consultation disagreed with, those flat-fee figures would make way for a banded structure.

The new system would see costs rising to £300 for an estate worth £50,000 - £300,000, £1,000 for estates worth over £300,000, and £4,000 for estates over £500,000. Estates over £2m would trigger probate fees of more than £20,000.

The move is part of a drive to raise an extra £250m a year to fund the courts and tribunals system.

John-Paul said: “This is just another form of death duty without any real justification. Like Inheritance Tax, it will need paying upfront, which means that those applying for probate could have to find thousands of pounds just to go through the process.

“I believe that this will result in real hardship, and find it hard to understand how a vulnerable surviving spouse is expected to fund these costs. If they are elderly, they are going to find it impossible to re-mortgage, and may have to undertake equity release just to get probate if their loved one’s estate is mainly comprised of property.

“There is no difference in the amount of work that the Probate Registry will have to undertake to process a Grant for an estate worth £200,000 or £800,000 and yet the fees will be £3,700 more. The Probate Registry’s most expensive fee will be 66 times its cheapest fee.

“I would urge people to contact their MP as soon as possible and express their concerns ahead of parliamentary approval being given, or risk being hit by this stealth tax at a later date.”

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