A Ministry of Justice consultation paper proposes a complete overhaul of the fees payable when applying for a grant of probate.
The new scheme would change from fixed fees to a 'banded' structure with the fee increasing significantly depending on the value of the estate.
For many estates the fee will be £1,000 or under, but this is still a significant increase from the current fees of around £155. For estates over £2 million the fee rockets to £20,000.
It is very difficult to see how the level of service provided by the Probate Registry can possibly justify these fees and it appears that the extra income is to be used to prop up other areas of the Court system.
The calculation of fees by reference to the value of the estate will probably be viewed by clients as a tax by another name. This could cause practical difficulties for bereaved families who would have to find the cash for the fee from their own resources because they can't access the deceased's money until the Probate Registry issue the grant of representation, unless the banks review their policies and agree to release funds for fees.
Although this is just a proposal at the moment and the details may change, I expect that there will be major changes to the fee structure in the near future.
Court fees are never popular but they are necessary if we are, as a nation, to live within our means. These proposals would raise around an additional £250 million a year, which is a critical contribution to cutting the deficit and reducing the burden on the taxpayer of running the courts and tribunals.