Probate changes

Online probate

In September 2020, following a consultation on mandating online probate, HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has decided to:

  • mandate the use of the online service for grants of probate applications by professional users, with a number of exceptions for more specialised applications
  • continue to allow professional user applications for grants of letters of administration to be made via either the online process or the traditional method of applying to a Registry

These reforms are being introduced by an amendment to the Non-Contentious Probate Rules made by the president of the Family Division and laid in parliament on 30 September 2020.

The new rules came into force on 2 November 2020. However, there will be a grace period until 30 November 2020 when paper applications will still be accepted.

Read more about the update to the non-contentious probate rules

Read our consultation response

Read the government’s response

In October 2019, HMCTS announced it's rolling out a national pilot that will enable legal professionals to access the online probate service.

HMCTS trialled an online probate service in 2017 for personal applicants and pre-selected solicitors.

In January 2019 HMCTS launched the online service.

Listen to our podcast about the new online probate service 

Probate delays

In our last meeting, HMCTS said it was anticipating a rise in probate applications based on a forecast of what receipts would be, and was putting resources in place to address this. Although the volume of applications has gone up, on average it has not risen to the level anticipated. It has been a smoother increase, and HMCTS feels that its resources have matched this closely.

It can confirm its capacity is increasing week on week. The average number of grants issued per week during August 2020 was around 5,700, an increase of 500 per week on pre-COVID levels. The majority of personal applications are coming through digitally and whilst practitioner levels have increased, HMCTS is still encouraging legal professionals to submit applications digitally, where possible.

Inheritance tax (IHT) queries still remain the highest proportion of stops both on paper and digitally. HMCTS cannot progress without the IHT so asks to either wait until practitioners have it back or stagger sending to HMCTS until the recommended processing time of HMRC (currently 14 days) has passed.

Read about our meeting with HMCTS to review the delays to the probate service 

Probate fees increase

In 2018 the Ministry of Justice announced its proposal to increase probate fees. The proposal means that:

  • probate fees would increase from £215, or £155 if done by a solicitor, to a sliding scale ranging from £250 to £6,000 depending on the value of the estate
  • if the estate is worth less than £50,000 probate fees would not have to be paid

Find out more about the proposed probate fees increase

Our view

We strongly oppose the probate fees increase. In February 2019, we urged MPs to object to the Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018 and vote against approving it.

We believe:

  • the dramatic increase in fees amounts to a stealth tax and is a misuse of the Lord Chancellor’s fee-levying power
  • the fee increase is disproportionate and excessive compared to the current fees of £215
  • it's unfair to expect the bereaved to fund or subsidise other parts of the Courts and Tribunals Service, particularly if they have no other option but to use the probate service

What this means for solicitors

The proposed changes to the probate system mean that:

  • you may have to wait significantly longer than expected for a grant of probate to be issued
  • the current flat fee rate may be changing to a sliding scale depending on the value of the estate

What we’re doing

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