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How Much Does a Probate Attorney Cost? [2024]

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The cost of hiring a probate attorney varies, with some lawyers charging hourly fees, others offering flat rates, and more working on a retainer. However, understanding these costs is crucial for anyone navigating the process of settling an estate. On average, you can expect to pay between 3 to 5% of the total estate value in probate fees. It’s important to remember that the size of the estate heavily influences the total expense, with smaller estates sometimes bypassing the need for probate altogether — though qualifications for this exemption differ by state.

This article will guide you through hiring and paying for a probate attorney. We’ll explore situations where you might or might not need a probate attorney, breaking down typical costs and discussing who is responsible for these fees. Additionally, we’ll provide practical advice on how to get a probate attorney on the phone today, ensuring you have the support you need during this difficult time. 

Average Hourly Fees: $135-$450
Average Flat Fees: $3,500-$5,000
Average Retainer: $1,500-$2,000

Do I Need a Probate Attorney?

While there are many situations in which you may need a probate attorney, there are also several circumstances where they may not be necessary. 

Situations where a probate attorney may be helpful

The estate has many different types of assets.

While some estates may be relatively simple and straightforward, others may involve different kinds of assets, such as having multiple properties, stocks, and investments, especially in different jurisdictions. 

There are disputes among heirs.

In some cases, you may be expecting disputes to arise between heirs or beneficiaries. A probate attorney can help mediate and resolve these conflicts while ensuring the estate is distributed according to the deceased's wishes. 

The estate has significant debts and taxes.

It’s actually quite rare for a person to pass away debt-free, and many estates will involve taxation of some sort. With a qualified attorney in your corner, you can settle these liabilities while minimizing the impact on the estate’s value.

You’re concerned about legal compliance with local probate laws.

Probate laws vary by state, making them difficult to navigate without legal guidance. Your probate attorney can help you meet legal requirements and avoid any complications.

The deceased person didn’t leave a will.

In situations where there isn’t a will, or in specific cases where the will is contested, a probate lawyer can provide guidance on intestate succession.

Situations where a probate attorney isn’t necessary

You’re dealing with a small estate.

Depending on your jurisdiction, it may have simplified procedures for small or less complicated estates. If the estate qualifies for more straightforward procedures, the cost of hiring an attorney might not be justified.

The estate’s assets have designated beneficiaries.

Some assets, like life insurance policies or retirement accounts, often have designated beneficiaries, meaning they’ll bypass the probate process. Those held in a joint tenancy or a test generally have the same fate. A probate lawyer might not be needed if most of the deceased’s assets fall into these categories.

The family is amicable.

If all heirs and family members agree about the terms of the estate distribution and there aren’t any disputes, you could opt to navigate this process without legal assistance, especially if the estate is straightforward.

Probate Costs: What To Expect

The probate process can feel daunting, especially when it comes to figuring out how much it’s going to cost. While these can vary depending on the complexity of the estate, the specific laws of your jurisdiction, and the duration of the probate proceedings — it can be beneficial to see a general breakdown, helping you navigate this process with ease. Here are some standard costs you can expect while going through probate:

Court fees

As one of the most common costs you’ll encounter, court fees are paid to the probate court for filing various documents necessary for administering the estate. These will vary by jurisdiction but often include charges for filing the initial petition for probate, the will itself, and other forms during the probate process. 

Costs may range from $100 to $200 for smaller estates to several thousand dollars for larger or more complex estates. Some jurisdictions structure this as a flat fee for smaller estates or a percentage of the estate’s value. In contrast, others may offer a sliding scale fee structure that increases alongside the estate’s value.

Appraisal costs

Another typical expense, especially for larger estates, involves any costs associated with professionally valuing the assets of an estate. These may include real estate, businesses, jewelry, artwork, and other valuable items. While it may seem easy to overlook, these appraisals are crucial for accurately depicting the market value for tax assessment and equitable distribution to heirs. 

Professional appraisers may charge a flat fee or a rate based on the time spent and the complexity of the appraisal. Depending on the assets involved, fees could range from $200 to $300 to $1,000 or more.

Accounting fees

While this expense may seem relegated to larger estates, estates of any size can be subject to accounting fees. These fees include preparing and filing the deceased’s final personal income tax returns and the estate’s tax returns, handling the more complex financial transactions, and ensuring compliance with tax laws. 

Many accountants and tax professionals charge a flat fee for this service — especially in cases involving smaller estates. However, it’s not uncommon to see a sliding scale structure, with costs increasing depending on the complexity of the estate’s finances.

Surety bond costs

Some larger estates require the executor to post a bond before administering the estate. This bond essentially acts as an insurance policy to protect the beneficiaries and creditors of the estate against any potential mismanagement of the estate’s assets by the executor. 

The cost of this bond usually depends on the total value of the estate and the perceived risk associated with the executor, with premiums generally ranging from 0.5% to 1% of the bond amount.

Taxes

Often applicable regardless of the estate’s size, tax-related expenses will arise from various tax obligations that the estate must fulfill before assets can be distributed to heirs. These can include the deceased’s final personal income taxes, estate taxes, and inheritance taxes — although these requirements vary by state. You’ll also likely encounter ongoing property taxes for real estate held by the estate until the properties are transferred or sold.

Storage and maintenance fees

While the estate is in the probate process, you may encounter storage and maintenance fees related to preserving and maintaining the deceased’s property until it can be distributed or sold as part of the estate settlement. This can include expenses for storing personal belongings and ongoing costs for maintaining real estate — such as property taxes, insurance, utilities, and landscaping. 

These costs vary widely depending on the estate size and your specific needs.

Executor’s fees

The executor or administrator of the estate, who is responsible for managing the probate process, is often entitled to compensation for their work in distributing the estate according to the deceased’s wishes. This fee is for their time and effort in handling responsibilities like paying off debts, managing assets, and ensuring proper distribution according to the will or state laws.

Sometimes, this fee is determined by the will, but it can also be ascertained by a statutory formula or by what the court considers reasonable. Typically, these fees range from 1% to 5% of the estate’s total value, but larger or more complicated estates might warrant higher fees.

Attorney’s fees

Often considered the most expensive part of probate, you’ll encounter attorney fees when hiring a lawyer to help with the legal intricacies of settling an estate. These fees can be structured in several ways. For example, some probate attorneys charge an hourly rate, others offer a flat fee for their services, and in certain jurisdictions, payments may be calculated as a percentage of the estate’s value. 

Who Pays for a Probate Lawyer?

The fees for a probate lawyer are usually covered by the estate’s assets — meaning that the cost of hiring a probate lawyer is borne by the estate itself, not by the executor or the beneficiaries unless the estate is insolvent. The lawyer’s fees are commonly considered part of the administrative costs of settling the estate, which must be paid before assets are distributed. If the estate doesn’t have enough assets to cover these costs, the beneficiaries usually cover the difference or discontinue the probate process. 

How To Get a Probate Attorney on the Phone Today

Are you looking to find a probate lawyer quickly? Use Expertise.com’s concierge service and directory to connect with a legal professional today. 

Our concierge service is available 24/7 and ready to connect you with a local lawyer specializing in probate-related matters. Whether you’re dealing with a complex estate or need straightforward legal advice, our service ensures that help is just a phone call away. 

Additionally, our comprehensive directory is accessible anytime, offering a convenient way to search for and find experienced probate lawyers in your area. 

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