The proposed increase in probate fees has seen bereaved families and their legal representatives urgently rushing to complete applications for a Grant of Probate. Given that the increase was intended to be used to bridge the gap in funding for HM Courts and Tribunals Service, the proposals were referred to as ‘an additional tax on death’ and met with significant criticism from professionals and individuals alike. Despite the criticism, petitions and even a debate about whether such an increase could legally be implemented by the Government, the proposals looked ready to come into force ‘sometime’ in May. In an unexpected turn of events the Government has since announced that the controversial plans have been scrapped, or at the very least put to one side, pending the General Election in June 2017. While Executors and their legal representatives breathe a well-earned sigh of relief, watch this space as similar proposals may very well return to the table in the future.
Aside from the news surrounding probate fees, we have now received the Supreme Court decision in the case of Ilott v Mitson – a probate dispute involving a daughter who challenged her mother’s Will having been written out after 26 years of estrangement. Her mother had instead left her estate (valued at £486,000) between three charities. Reversing the Court of Appeals previous decision, the Supreme Court confirmed that a charities dependence on testamentary bequests should be given consideration when deciding how much either party should receive. The Supreme Court also reiterated the importance of testamentary freedom – individuals should be free to decide what ought to happen to their assets on their death without too much interference by the state. Whilst there remain questions around how much should be awarded in probate disputes of this nature, the preservation of testamentary freedom is certainly a welcome judgment.
In further news, the previously mentioned Residential Nil Rate Band (‘RNRB’) has now come into force offering the potential for individual’s to have an additional £100,000 which can pass free of inheritance tax if they leave their home to direct lineal descendants. Whether the RNRB will be available to an individual or not depends on a number of conditions and professional advice should be sought to ensure those conditions are met. The introduction of the new tax-free amount is nonetheless good news for those wishing to leave their home to children.
In short, it has been a busy year so far in terms of changes in the area surrounding Wills and Estates so it is important to keep up to date with how these matters could affect you.
For further information, please contact Alison Hall, a Partner at Hay & Kilner, on 0191 232 8345 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org