The Government’s third attempt at revamping the cost of obtaining grant of probate in England and Wales is much more modest in scope than the previous two. The introduction of the new fee structure is planned for early 2022.
There is a two-tier fee structure under the current system. The cost is £215 for an application from an individual, and £155 if the application is from a solicitor. Fees were last amended seven years ago, and at that time the cost differential reflected some of the additional administrative work required by the probate service to process applications made by individuals.
Many estates do not need to go through probate. In some cases the value of the deceased’s assets is low. The cut-off point can be anything between £10,000 and £50,000. Each bank and financial organisation has its own rules on how much money it will release before seeing a grant of probate. If all assets are jointly owned, they automatically pass to the surviving owners.
Even when probate is required, you can save the high fees charged by probate specialists if the estate is uncomplicated; approximately 40% of applications for probate are made by individuals in such circumstances. The Death Notification Service lets you notify a number of financial institutions of a person's death at the same time, and My Lost Account will help trace lost bank and building society accounts, and also NS&I products. It is worth obtaining multiple copies of a death certificate from the beginning as the cost of requesting these later can go up.
Because of Covid-19, probate applications are taking up to eight weeks to process.
If you are involved in a probate application, the government’s guide is a good starting point.
Although it looks like the next Budget will be pushed back to spring 2022, several tax changes are already on the cards, some more certain than others. The government’s fast progress with reform of the basis period rules for unincorporated businesses has taken some by surprise.
Basis period rules
The basis of taxation for sole traders and partnerships looks like it will change to a tax year basis from 2023/24 onwards. The government’s plan is to simplify the rules by the time MTD for income tax becomes mandatory.
This will not impact on you if you already draw up accounts to 5 April (or 31 March), but for others 2022/23 will be the transition year.
A partnership prepares accounts to 30 June. The profits assessed for 2022/23 will be those from 1 July 2021 to 5 April 2023 (or 31 March 2023), less any unused overlap profits. For 2023/24, profits assessed will be from 6 April 2023 to 5 April 2024 (or 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2024). Profits for the years ended 30 June 2023 and 2024 will have to be apportioned.
Any unused overlap profits can be offset in 2022/23, although some will find themselves taxed on up to 23 months of profits with little overlap profits to offset. In this case, an election will be possible so that the additional profits are spread over five tax years.
The need to apportion profits in future will mean having to estimate figures (with a subsequent amendment) where the second set of accounts is not prepared in time for the 31 January self- assessment deadline.
The simplest solution will be to change to a 5 April (or 31 March) accounting date. Making that change in 2021/22 could be a good option if current profits are low due to Covid-19.
Another change already on the cards is the increase to the normal retirement age for registered pensions from 55 to 57 in April 2028, which will be legislated in the Finance Act 2021/22. Less certain is a proposed 1% increase in NICs for the employed and self-employed to fund social care.
The Government’s policy paper on basis period reform can be found here.