Russell-Cooke Senior Partner John Gould has been advising the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) in relation to the legality of the Government’s proposed increases in probate fees from a fixed fee of £215 or less to as much as £20,000 for larger estates. For most estates a grant of probate is required and the fee is unavoidable.
A key question was whether the charge was legally a fee or actually taxation. Our advice (supported by Richard Drabble QC) was that the charge was in substance taxation. This mattered because the Government was proposing to introduce the fee without legislation. It is a long established constitutional principle that taxation can only be imposed by an Act of Parliament.
The increased fee was expected to raise more than £300 million each year from estates. We have been providing legal support to STEP in its representations opposing the proposals.
As has now been widely reported, the Government, in the context of the General Election, appears to have taken account of the legal arguments and has now announced that the increased fees proposal will not (at least for the present) proceed.
John Gould was assisted in the case by Russell-Cooke associate Michael Stacey.