If you leave all or parts of your estate in a Will, or if you die without a Will or intestate, then your estate is subject to probate. This means that the probate court will oversee or monitor the administration of your Will including determining its validity, the paying of outstanding debts, determination of the claims of heirs or creditors, ensure the payment of taxes and monitor the eventual distribution of your assets according to the intent of your Will.
What Does a Probate Attorney Do?
Many heirs or administrators of Wills will retain a probate attorney if they have claims regarding the Will’s validity or to ensure that all the proper paperwork and payment of fees and taxes are made. The duties of a probate lawyer include:
- Attendance at all court sessions
- Drafting and filing all necessary forms and reports
- Advising and consulting with the estate’s executor or administrator regarding creditor claims, allegations of lack of testamentary capacity or undue influence that could invalidate the Will, or dealing with any other issues that may arise
- Assisting in selling real or personal property or in maintaining it
What are the Statutory Legal Fees and Costs in a California Probate?
California probate rules require that you file a minimum of two petitions: a Petition to Probate and a Petition for Final Distribution. The cost for each is $395. For estates that have substantial assets, additional petitions may have to be filed.
When the Will is probated, the executor or administrator will have to publish a Notice of Probate in an approved newspaper. The court can provide you a list of approved publications. Costs can range from $100 to $450 depending on the publication.
Attorney’s fees in probate matters are largely based on statute, however an attorney can bill for additional fees if there is a Will dispute or other complications arise.
Under California law, attorney fees are based on the fair market value of the estate’s assets, without regard for any liabilities. These are calculated as follows:
- 4% of the first $100,000
- 3% of the next $100,000
- 2% of the next $800,000
- 1% on the next $9M
- 0.5% on the next $15M
- Whatever is reasonable for any estates valued at over $25M
For a $2 million estate, the calculation would be as follows:
4% of the first $100,000 = $4,000
3% of the next $100,000 = $3,000
2% of the remaining $1,800,000 = $36,000
As executor or administrator, you are entitled to charge these same fees, however, most will waive the fee unless they are having to handle complex issues or are spending considerable time in the estate’s administration.
Another cost is that of the appraiser, who has to value all of the testator’s assets. An appraiser’s fees are 0.1% of the value of the appraised property or $2000 for our example.
So for an estate valued at $2,000,000, you can expect the following costs and fees:
Cost of the 2 petitions: $790.00
Notice of Probate publication: $100 to $450
Appraisal fee: $2000
Attorneys’ fees: $43,000
Total: $45,890 to $46,240—if the executor wants to be paid, add another $43,000.
In complicated probates or where claims are made, then additional petitions are filed at a cost of $395 for each. You can also expect the probate attorney to request additional fees based on the attorney’s hourly fee, which will be hundreds of dollars per hour.
You can avoid probate by setting up trusts and other instruments so that assets pass automatically to the designated heirs without the need for probate administration. Discuss an estate plan with trusts and estates attorney Christopher Johnson who can properly advise you on how your estate can be handled with a minimum of costs, taxes and headaches.