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Government forced on the defensive following probate backlash

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The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has sought to quell the anger which has arisen in the wake of controversial plans to overhaul probate fees

The department this week issued a Q&A-type paper which aimed to provide “further guidance” on how the new regime would work in practice.

In the document, it is explained that if an estate does not have sufficient cash to cover the charge imposed, the executors will have the option of applying to the probate service to access a “particular asset for the sole purpose of paying the fee.”

The MoJ also sought to clarify what would happen if a HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) assessment was deemed necessary, as well as giving assurances that any application that the Probate Registry received before the new system was implemented would be charged the old fee.

That said, a date has yet to be confirmed for when the new framework will be put in place, with a mail-shot expected once officials have agreed the timetable.

It is understood that the MoJ had felt compelled to issue further clarification following a considerable backlash against its plans.

A fixed fee of £155 (for those applying through a solicitor) is to be replaced by a sliding scale. This means that while estates of less than £50,000 will be exempt from charges, those worth in excess of £2million will face an eye-watering bill of £20,000.

Although the department has continued to insist that the new system is fairer, critics have pointed out that fewer than two per cent of those who participated in a consultation exercise last year supported the change.

A number of the Government’s own backbenchers have openly criticised the reforms.

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP said: “I do not think it right that the Government should introduce stealth taxes.

“Probate charges should relate to the cost of the probate work, which is broadly irrelevant to the size of the estate.”