Bereaved families in England and Wales face increased costs from Wednesday as probate fees rise by up to 76%.
Applications for probate, which grants permission to deal with the estate of someone who has died, will now cost a flat rate of £273.
Previously the fee was £155 if a solicitor applied on behalf of a family and £215 for those who applied direct.
Lawyers have condemned the price rise, which comes at a time when processing delays have left some families in legal limbo.
Michael Culver, the chair of Solicitors for the Elderly, said: “Our members are still reporting an average wait time of six to nine weeks and many agree that the service is still in need of significant improvements.”
The government claims that the time to process online applications fell to less than four weeks last spring, but the wait time for all applications averaged at 9.3 weeks in October according to figures from HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
The fallout from the pandemic and the closure of regional register offices has meant that some applications have taken months to be granted, leaving families unable to sell their late relative’s home or pay off debts.
One family contacted Guardian Money after waiting for 10 months.
According to the Ministry of Justice, which governs the probate service, the fee increase will fund a new centralised online system which is replacing paper applications.
It had proposed to increased the charge to up to £20,000 for the wealthiest estates, then reduced it to £6,000 before abandoning it in 2019 after an outcry. It will continue to waive fees for estates worth £5,000 or less.
According to the Law Society, technical issues with the new system, administrative errors and poor communication have contributied to a backlog. It is calling for families to be offered reimbursements if their application is delayed.
It also wants assurances that the fee increase will be used to improve the service.
“We support the MoJ’s aim to make a simpler, more streamlined process for users of the probate service, and we understand funds are needed to help this change and development,’ said the Law Society president, I Stephanie Boyce.
“We query why the UK government has decided to increase fees at this time, particularly as the probate service is still facing delays.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “These fees will fully fund our investment in a first-class digital probate service to ensure shorter waiting times, fewer user and administrative errors, and a better experience for families.
“Every penny will go towards the cost of processing probate applications – something that is currently subsidised by taxpayers.”