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Backlash as the Government presses forward with probate changes

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Ministers have confirmed that they intend to press ahead with controversial changes to probate fees.

The new regime – scheduled to take effect from May this year – has faced strong opposition from both within the legal profession and the public at large.

Under the current arrangements, the fees are levied on estates at a fixed rate of either £155 or £215.

This system is set to be replaced by a sliding scale of charges.

While estates worth less than £50,000 will be exempt from fees, the amount levied on the largest estates in England and Wales will rise to an eye-watering £20,000.

Organisations including the Law Society have argued that such sums are not in proportion to the work that has to be carried out.

Outlining its concerns during last year’s consultation period, the Law Society said it was worried that the changes would turn probate into a “profit centre.”

“The fees collected through the probate service should be allocated to cover the cost of running and improving the probate registry and not to subsidise others areas of the court system,” they added.

“The court system should not take advantage of often vulnerable individuals who are recently bereaved by charging excessive probate fees when individuals are obliged to apply for probate (on estates over the threshold amount).”

Critics had also suggested that some people may feel compelled to give away assets during their lifetime so that their estate isn’t hit by the most punitive charges.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman insisted that the new arrangements would be fairer and that an estimated 57 per cent of estates would pay nothing following the changes.

“Fees are necessary to maintain an accessible, world-leading justice system,” she said.