Probate fees hike hits larger estates

The government has resurrected the controversial probate banding structure, now due to come in from April 2019, essentially creating a stealth tax aimed at larger estates.

The new fees for obtaining probate, in England and Wales only, are on a sliding scale, based on the value of an estate before inheritance tax (IHT). There are different systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Currently, there’s a flat fee of only £155 where a solicitor obtains a grant of probate or £215 if it is obtained by another person; there is no fee for estates of £5,000 or less. The new fees can be as much as 0.5% of an estate’s value, while the threshold below which no fee is payable will increase to £50,000:

Value of estate

Probate fee

Up to £50,000

No fee

Over £50,000 to £300,000


Over £300,000 to £500,000


Over £500,000 to £1 million


Over £1 million to £1.6 million


Over £1.6 million to £2 million


Over £2 million


The same fees will apply for obtaining letters of administration where the deceased dies without a will.

Funding higher fees
Banks and building societies will usually release funds up to a certain threshold without requiring a grant of probate, but this will be of little help to estates that are cash poor but asset rich. Possible ways of funding fees include the executor or beneficiaries paying the fees personally, or the executor obtaining a loan. A solicitor or probate company might be willing to pay the fee up front, or an alternative executor with adequate funds or a better credit rating could be appointed.

You might consider taking out a life assurance policy which is then held in trust for the benefit of either the executor or a beneficiary. There are also proposals to provide limited access to estate assets for the sole purpose of paying the probate fee.

You should get expert advice before taking any measures.