Do Probate Attorneys Accept Work on Contingency? Staff Profile Picture
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Working on contingency means a lawyer is only paid if their client has a successful outcome. With probate cases on the rise across the United States, many attorneys will accept work on a contingency basis if they feel a case has a clear path to success. In this article, we’ll break down how a contingency fee works in probate cases, probate fees, and how to find a probate lawyer who will work on contingency.

How a Contingency Fee Works in Probate

A contingency fee is a payment arrangement that is commonly used by attorneys in a variety of legal matters, including probate cases. In probate, contingency fees are useful during disputes over wills, disputes over an executor’s performance,  and in cases of estate litigation. Contingency fees are less common in standard probate cases, where fees are based on hourly rates and a percentage of the estate’s value. 

If an attorney successfully resolves a case in favor of their client, their contingency fee is often a predetermined percentage of the estate. If the case isn’t successful, the attorney does not receive any fee for their services. However, clients might still have a responsibility for certain expenses incurred throughout the legal process. Some other factors that can affect contingency fees in probate include:

Complexity of the Case

Complex probate cases might involve intricate tax issues, disputes between beneficiaries, or challenges to the will. These complexities normally require an attorney to spend more time on research, preparation, and representation, which justifies a higher contingency fee.

Jurisdiction of the Case & Statutory Limits

Different jurisdictions have unique statutes or common law precedents that affect how attorneys can charge for their services. Some states have a sliding scale for fees relative to the estate’s value, while others may allow attorneys to negotiate fees freely within certain legal boundaries. Some jurisdictions also have statutory limits on contingency fees to protect clients from exorbitant charges. These are more common in probate cases to make sure inheritances are not unfairly cut down by legal fees.

Amount at Stake

An estate’s value has a strong influence on a lawyer’s fees. A lawyer might charge a high percentage on a small estate, but a relatively lower percentage on a large estate to ensure they are paid appropriately for their services. 

Attorney Experience and Reputation

Attorneys with a successful track record in probate cases can command higher fees. Their reputation may also offer clients confidence that they’ll come away victorious, which can make their high fees worth it.

Case Merit and Risk

Probate attorneys assess the merits of a case before considering a contingency fee agreement. If the likelihood of success is high, they may only charge a moderate percentage of your final award. The more risk an attorney takes, the higher their fee climbs to offset the potential of not receiving a payout.

How To Find a Probate Lawyer Who Works on Contingency

Search for attorneys in your local area, as local lawyers are more often familiar with the jurisdictional laws and procedures. Online directories like can help you compare probate attorneys. 

Other ways to find probate lawyers who work on contingency include:

  • Look for Specialized Attorneys: Look for attorneys who specialize in probate law, as they’ll have the specific knowledge and experience to handle your case proficiently. Specialized probate attorneys might be more willing to take cases on a contingency basis, especially if they believe the case has merit and a strong chance of success.

  • Negotiate or Discuss a Contingency Fee Agreement: Since a contingency fee means the attorney’s payment is based on the success of the case, it’s essential to discuss the percentage and other fee-related details upfront with any potential attorney.

  • Take Free Consultations: Some probate attorneys offer free consultations, which are an opportunity for you to discuss your case and the possibility of a contingency fee arrangement without any upfront cost.

  • Evidence Evaluation: In cases where probate litigation is necessary, such as contesting a will or dealing with inheritance disputes, some attorneys prefer to evaluate evidence before agreeing to a contingency fee arrangement. This is a critical step for lawyers to assess the risk and viability of the case before committing to representing a client. 

  • Avoid Large Law Firms: Smaller law firms or solo practitioners are sometimes more likely to take on probate cases on a contingency basis. Larger law firms often work on an hourly fee basis and may not be as willing to assume the risk associated with contingency cases.

Probate Fees: Who Pays Them?

Probate attorney fees can be determined in several ways: by the hour, by flat fee, or as a percentage of the estate’s total value. Hourly rates can vary depending on the location and complexity of the case. Fees are generally paid out of the estate itself before it is distributed to heirs or beneficiaries. The executor or administrator of the estate does not personally pay these fees unless they are also a beneficiary, in which case their inheritance may be reduced accordingly. The estate is used to reimburse the probate lawyer’s fee, which ensures that the cost is shared among those who ultimately benefit from the estate. 

Legal Fees for a Simple Estate

  • Flat or Hourly Fees: Attorneys may charge a flat fee or bill by the hour in straightforward cases. These fees cover legal advice, document preparation, court representation, etc.

  • Percentage of the Estate: In some jurisdictions, fees may be a percentage of the estate’s value, though this is less common in simple estate cases.

  • Filing Fees and Costs: Beyond the attorney’s fees, the estate is also responsible for court filing fees, costs for obtaining death certificates, and fees for publishing legal notices.

  • Executor Compensation: The executor or personal representative of the estate is often entitled to a fee, which is subject to court approval and typically comes out of the estate.

Legal Fees for a Complicated or Contested Estate

  • Increased Hourly Fees: Attorneys might charge higher hourly rates in cases with complexities like multiple wills, unclear designations of beneficiaries, or assets in multiple jurisdictions.

  • Litigation Costs: If the estate is contested, litigation costs can accrue rapidly, including expenses for expert witnesses, protracted legal representation, additional court filings, etc.

  • Tax Advisory Fees: Estates with complex tax situations may require the assistance of accountants or tax advisors, whose fees are also paid by the estate.

  • Ancillary Costs: In complicated estate cases, there may be ancillary costs related to securing or appraising assets, managing business interests, or addressing potential international considerations.

Do I Have to Pay Any Fees Out of Pocket to Settle an Estate?

An estate is composed of savings, assets, and any additional funds the decedent held. Fees are typically taken directly out of the estate instead of out of the executor’s pocket.  However, there can be times when the executor must cover costs out of pocket, particularly if the estate lacks sufficient liquidity to pay the upfront expenses. These costs can be reimbursed by the estate once funds become available.

Some of the costs that can be charged to an estate may vary, but generally they include:

  • Court filing fees for probate and other legal proceedings.

  • Attorney and accountant fees.

  • Costs associated with maintaining or managing estate property.

  • Funeral, burial, or cremation costs.

  • Taxes and any debts owed by the deceased.

How to Find a Good Probate Attorney

A quality probate attorney is important when dealing with inheritances, estates, and wills, but the last thing you need during this time of grief is the stress of finding a legal professional. Use’s online directory to search for a confident local lawyer who will take your case and if need be, work on a contingency basis. Or call’s concierge service at 848-BookPro (848-266-5776) and let us find you an attorney with the pedigree and the experience you’re looking for!

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