Guest blog from one of the recognised bodies of the Professional Paralegal Register, The Association of Probate Researchers (APR) on the proposed changes within the probate sector.
These are interesting times for the probate sector, with the government looking to push through its much-publicised fee changes while at the same time introducing a new online application process that has been dogged by controversy virtually from the day it was first mooted.
Proposed reforms will bring an end to the current flat rate of probate fees of £215 (£155 if estates are settled through a solicitor) and the implementation of a six-band sliding scale.
The new system will see people whose estates are valued at between £50,000 and £300,000 pay £250, with fees rising to £750 for estates valued between £300,000 and £500,000, and £2,500 for those worth between £500,000 and £1m. A maximum fee of £6,000 will be levied on those with estates worth more than £2m.
Fees will be capped at no more than 0.5 per cent of the value of an estate and the government suggests that around 80% of estates will pay no more than £750. In addition, the threshold below which no fees are payable will rise from £5,000 to £50,000.
The Ministry of Justice has stressed that additional funds raised will be spent on the courts and tribunal service.
In a written statement it noted: ‘The new banded fee model represents a fair and more progressive way to pay for probate services compared to the current flat fee.’
However, many in the media have not agreed with this assessment and the proposals have come in for considerable criticism, especially as they coincide with the introduction of a controversial online application process.
Rolled out by Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) in 2017 as part of a £1 billion reform programme, the latter’s stated aim is to make probate simpler and more convenient, remove the need for people to attend a probate registry and swear an oath in person, and make the justice system easier to navigate for all.
Government sources say that take up of the new system has been relatively rapid and point to advantages of security and ease of use.
Under the proposals, “bulk scanning and printing services” will replace work that has traditionally been carried out by people – in this case civil servants – who check whether wills are original before issuing probate.
The Public and Commercial Services Union, some of whose members are now facing an uncertain future, has however reacted with alarm at the plan.
“Thousands of years of experience are being lost,” a union spokesperson commented in March, “We are concerned that the current model of probate is having to change to fit HMCTS proposals for a paperless system, a system that they have not consulted upon, our members maintain is not fit for purpose and threatens the integrity of the grant.”
Neil Fraser, partner at genealogists and international probate researchers Fraser and Fraser, said: “In principle, automating the system makes sense and will make the process simpler for many people. However, it’s important there is a system of checks in place that allows individual cases to be scrutinised.”
“The digitisation process should be extended to cover the entire probate period, with estate accounts being required to be filed at the end of the process.
“Complex estates by their very nature can be challenging to administer and we would strongly advise these are dealt with by a professional. Many members of the public will be unaware that if they make mistakes they could be at risk of facing prosecution for fraud.”
The Association of Probate Researchers
In the context of the current changes faced by the sector, the Association of Probate Researchers (APR) has an important role to play.
The organisation brings regulation to the professional probate research industry, guards against the fraudulent or misguided and ensures beneficiaries receive the best advice at a time of changing realities and regulations.
For more information about the organisation’s activities visit www.a-p-r.org