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The government has rowed back on plans for a massive hike in fees paid when a deceased person’s estate is distributed – a big relief for owner-occupier farming families.

Liz Truss, the justice secretary and former Defra secretary, had pushed through proposals for a rise in probate fees that would have left some families paying up to £20,000.

A grant of probate is needed before assets can be distributed according to the terms set out in a will.

At present, a flat fee of between £150 and £250 applies for estates valued at more than £5,000, below which no fee is payable.

See also: Bereavement – how farmers can put their affairs in order

Despite overwhelmingly negative responses to a public consultation, and previous justice secretaries resisting the move, Ms Truss said she would implement the sharp rise in May this year.

The new fee structure would have meant that estates up to the value of £50,000 would be exempt from probate fees, while those worth more would face a significant increase.

For estates worth more than £2m, the proposed fee would have risen to £20,000.

Finding cash a challenge

Advisers had pointed out that, while a farming family may be asset-rich and commonly worth more than £2m, finding the £20,000 cash would be a real challenge for many, possibly forcing the sale of assets or taking out a loan. 

CLA senior legal adviser Roger Tetlow said: “We strongly oppose this unjustified death tax and it is a relief that it will now not be introduced. We will urge the next government to abandon this regressive plan.”

According to law firm Howes Percival, the decision to shelve the plan has been taken due to the lack of parliamentary time ahead of the 8 June general election.

Company director Tom Lawrence said the news would be welcomed by grieving families who had been trying to rush through probate ahead of the 1 May deadline.

“I would expect the outcome of the general election to have a significant bearing as to when the proposals receive attention once again,” he added.