The very nature of the living means that contentious probate cases will continue to be a feature of the legal landscape year on year. As more and more individuals decide to challenge the Wills of relatives and loved ones, we can certainly learn from the what goes before. In 2018 there were a number of significant cases of contested probate which found their way into the courts.
In fact, the number of cases involving a challenge to a Will are both too numerous and too complex for full consideration here. However, by reviewing a select trio of the contentious probate claims to hit the courts in 2018, it is possible to alight on some useful nuggets of advice to help any person who is about to embark on the process of writing a Will, comparing probate solicitors, finding a fixed fee probate service or indeed pursuing any other area of law related to Wills, probate, and estate administration.
The Government has announced this morning that they plan to introduce legislation to increase probate court fees for estates valued at over £50,000. Currently, there is a flat fee across the board of £155 if using a solicitor, or £215 if applying in person.
The proposal is to increase the court fee on a sliding scale, determined by the estimated value of the estate:
Estates worth less than £50,000 will pay nothing, meaning estates worth between £5,000 and £50,000 will save £215 compared to the current system.
Estates worth between £50,000 and £300,000 will pay £250, a rise of £35.
Estates worth between £300,000 and £500,000 will pay £750, a rise of £535.
Estates worth between £500,000 and £1 million will pay £2,500, a rise of £2,285.
Estates worth between £1 million and £1.6 million will pay £4,000, a rise of £3,785.
Estates worth between £1.6 million and £2 million will pay £5,000, a rise of £4,785.
Estates worth more than £2 million will pay £6,000, a rise of £5,785.
Q: My partner and I are in our 50s, we own a property outright as tenants in common. We do not intend to get married as we have both been married (and divorced) before. I am worried that if my partner were to die, his estranged adult children would inherit his estate, leaving me in a difficult position financially in respect of the property. I am also concerned about the issue of having to pay Inheritance Tax on my partner’s estate.
A: Yours is not an unusual situation; many middle-aged couples have chosen to live together without being married.
It is understandable that you are concerned about what would happen to you should your partner die without having left a Will. When someone dies without a Will, then the estate is divided in line with the Rules of Intestacy and, unfortunately, intestacy law still does not recognise couples who are unmarried or not in a civil partnership. This would mean that either your partner’s children would inherit his half of the house you live in and may insist you buy out their share, or the house would have to be sold.
The Legal Services Board have now approved proposed new rules by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority which require law firms offering certain service to publish their fees online. Those who offer probate, motoring offences, immigration, debt recovery of amounts up to £100,000, and employment tribunals will have to implement these rules in December this year.
The published fee information must also include details of disbursements, and whether they may be subject to VAT; and details of what is included in the services such as “key stages of the matter and likely timescales for each stage”. The fee information must be displayed in a “prominent place” on the website, and the information must be “clear and accessible”.
The action on transparency follows on from the Competition and Markets Authority’s recommendation in 2016.
When a loved one has passed away, the very idea of navigating through the probate process can be overwhelming. Ideally, finding the right legal help for probate should be quick and easy so that you have much more time to focus on other matters.
But the process of administering an estate can be long and stressful, and although law firms should be doing all they can to help make the process as straightforward as possible for all their consumers at such a difficult time, the fact is many aren’t, and a lack of transparency in pricing means it is not realistic for a grieving legal customer to easily compare probate quotes while also finding the time to sort out all the other crucial matters involved with the death of a loved one. Recently released statistics have shown this.
New research has shown that clients in need of a probate solicitor are still not shopping around for the best deal on the right legal service for them. The Legal Service’s Consumer Panel’s annual Tracker Survey found that many customers were failing to make good use of the available resources to help them compare prices from many firms, such as comparison websites and customer review websites. One of the survey’s main findings is that the number of consumers who shop around for a legal service continues to remain low, with just 27% of respondents reporting they search the market for the best option. Worryingly, with only 16% comparing prices, probate is an area where customers appear to shop around the least.