HM Courts and Tribunals Service centralisation includes closing probate registries. According to the Law Society Gazette,
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has begun work on closing down regional probate registries and moving the service under one roof.
The Gazette understands some staff at the 10 remaining sites across England and Wales have been told of intentions to scale back their operations and eventually close down the sites.
The change comes as part of the wider £1bn modernisation programme to upgrade the courts and tribunals service. Ministers insist the service will improve by bringing together shared expertise.
Practitioners will however be concerned by the removal of face-to-face service for work that often requires familiarity with and trust in those administering it. Questions are certain to be asked about why probate services are being cut when the government plans to increase fees.
The eventual plan is to move probate services to the Courts and Tribunals Service Centre in Birmingham, with some administrative work taking place at a second site.
A spokesperson added: ‘Courts and Tribunals Service Centres are a key part of our £1 billion Reform Programme and will ensure we deliver better services for all court users. [HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s (HMCTS) £1 billion Reform Programme]
Documents issued last year by the judiciary revealed court reforms could result in the loss of 6,500 jobs by 2022. Meanwhile, proposals to create a banded structure for the probate fee, based on the size of the estate, remain stalled by the current Brexit-related turmoil in parliament. Under the proposed scheme estates worth £2m or more would pay £6,000 instead of £155.
Justice minister Lucy Frazer has said the new fee structure is expected to bring in additional income of £145m in the next financial year.
Critics of the new structure allege that the government is creating a new ‘stealth tax’. They argue that it is unfair to expect the bereaved to fund or subsidise other parts of the courts and tribunal service, particularly in circumstances where they have no other options but to use the probate service.
Before the 2017 general election the MoJ abandoned plans to raise an extra £300m a year through charging fees of up to £20,000 for large estates. Under the latest proposals, estates worth less than £50,000 would not pay any probate fees. The anticipated closures come as part of which “aims to bring new technology and modern ways of working to the way justice is administered”.
With the recent expansion of the online probate application service, there should theoretically be less pressure on regional probate registries. This is because the expansion aimed to make it simpler and easier to apply for a Grant of Probate online. The new system allows up to four joint Executors to apply, pay and swear a statement of truth online, reducing the need for Executors to visit a probate registry or solicitor’s office.
Applying for probate is just one small part of handling an individual’s affairs after they’ve passed away. This process is known as estate administration. The Executor(s) or Administrator must also deal with all their assets (including property, personal possessions, bank accounts and shares), paying any debts, Inheritance Tax and Income Tax, and transferring inheritance to the beneficiaries.
Our associates are estate administration specialists and their legal and tax teams have the expertise to advise on any situation. If you have any questions about the estate administration process, call Lifetime Trustees on 079 888 30691 or go to our contact page HERE.