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Estate Planning | Probate

How Much Does a Probate Lawyer Cost?

7 min read
Philip Ahn, Attorney

by Philip Ahn, Attorney

The cost of a probate lawyer depends on the complexity of your case. You may choose to pay an hourly rate (from $200 to $300) or purchase a full package of services (up to $6,000 to start). However, there are instances when you can avoid a probate hearing altogether—or, significantly cut down on related costs. 

If you are writing a will or are a beneficiary of one, you may need to get acquainted with probate law and hire a probate lawyer. In this post, we are looking into what a private process is, what you should expect in terms of costs, and related costs and ways to minimize them. We can connect you today with a local probate lawyer to understand all your options.

What Is Probate?

Probate is a court-based procedure that manages a deceased person’s estate. This process typically includes the following items:

  • Authenticating a deceased person’s will and having the will recognized as legally valid
  • Paying off debts and liquidating and transferring the deceased person’s assets to creditors
  • Transferring available assets to the beneficiaries of the will

When Is Probate Needed?

Whether an estate needs to go through probate depends on many things, including the size of the estate, the type of assets owned (whether they are considered probate or non-probate), and more. In most cases, property that passes directly to another person by law is not subject to probate. Here are some examples:

  • Joint property that is automatically transferred to the surviving co-owner
  • Profits that come from a life insurance policy, retirement account, or similar, where a specific beneficiary is named
  • Assets held in a trust

On the other hand, an estate will generally have to go through probate under these conditions:

  • There is a need to determine whether a will is valid
  • There is a change of title required for personal assets (bank accounts, stocks, etc.) and there are no surviving co-owners
  • There are debts that need to be repaid from the assets of the deceased
  • There are outstanding taxes that need to be filed
  • There is a dispute among beneficiaries concerning the distribution of assets

The need for probate also depends on the size of the estate. In most cases, smaller estates don’t require probate. However, probate thresholds vary from state to state.

What Does a Probate Lawyer Do?

A probate lawyer is a licensed attorney who assists the executors and beneficiaries of an estate to settle related affairs. 

These are some common responsibilities of a probate lawyer:

  • Determining the validity and authenticity of the will
  • Identifying and securing the assets of the deceased
  • Paying bills, taxes, and debts
  • Managing paperwork needed for probate court proceedings
  • Overseeing the transfer of assets to the assigned beneficiaries

Will You Need a Probate Lawyer?

The law does not require a probate lawyer for court and other related proceedings. However, it may be in your best interest to hire legal help. Whether you need a probate lawyer depends on the complexity of probate proceedings—and whether such proceedings are needed at all. These are possible scenarios:

  • If the deceased took the time to plan some probate-avoidance steps and all of their assets can be transferred to the assigned beneficiaries without court hearings, you won’t need legal representation. As mentioned earlier, this will be the case if the assets of the deceased are in joint ownership, held in a trust, and so on
  • Your case may also qualify for simplified probate procedures if the estate is classified as “small.” The rules for which cases can follow simplified procedures differ from state to state. If your case does qualify for simplified procedures, it may be handled completely out of court. However, you may need a legal consultation to determine whether your case can be considered for a simplified process
  • On the other hand, if probate proceedings are unavoidable, the need for a lawyer should be determined by the complexity of your case. For instance, if there are beneficiaries contesting the will of the deceased, you will probably require legal assistance. Whether or not you will require a lawyer may also be guided by the handling of probate proceedings in a particular state. For example, in the states where Uniform Probate Code has been adopted, probate proceedings tend to be quite straightforward. As a result, you may feel more confident handling the process without involving a lawyer

Are Probate Lawyers Expensive?

A probate lawyer’s fees depend on several factors. These include the complexity of your case, the state where it takes place, the type of payment arrangement you have with your lawyer—and more.

In general, the fees charged by a private attorney may vary from $200 per hour to a substantial flat fee of up to $6k. 

There are several common payment arrangement options that probate lawyers typically use:

Hourly rate. Paying by the hour is a common compensation method for probate lawyers. The lawyer’s hourly rate depends on the state where they work, the size of their practice and related case details. The average hourly rate for a probate lawyer ranges from $200 to $300.

Flat fee. Flat fees are another popular form of compensation. Paying a flat fee gets rid of the hassle of tracking your lawyer’s billable hours. On the other hand, a flat rate package can require a considerable upfront investment and turn out to be a more expensive option compared to an hourly rate.

You should expect to pay from $4k to $6k for a probate lawyer flat rate. Make sure you understand what services are included in the package and what may require additional payments.

Percentage of the value of the estate. This is a less common form of payment—but, in some cases, it can be a viable option. Note, however, that this form of payment is only accepted in some states and will not be available in others.

It’s also important to know that paying a percentage of the value of the estate can be costly. As this percentage is calculated from the gross value of the estate, the final fee can add up to thousands of dollars.

Lower the Cost of Probate Legal Fees

One of the most effective ways to minimize probable legal fees is to take proper steps that will eliminate the need for probate proceedings:

  • Leaving a will. A will offers a roadmap for what to do with the deceased person’s assets. The absence of the will, on the other hand, can leave room for uncertainty and the need for legal intervention. With that, keep in mind that the presence of the will won’t eliminate the need for probate court proceedings
  • Paying off all outstanding debts. Before the estate can be distributed among all beneficiaries, all outstanding debts have to be repaid. If there are a lot of debts, the associated probate process length and costs will be higher. All of this can be avoided if the testator handles all outstanding bills and takes care of all residual debt
  • Managing “complicated” assets. Some assets come with more legal complications than others. For instance, if you own property out of state, probate costs can go up as the case will require an additional executor in another state. To avoid this, you might consider selling this property or transferring it into joint ownership with one of your beneficiaries

If you can’t avoid probate court proceedings, you can still lower associated legal fees by using unbundled legal services. In this case, instead of paying for a full legal services package, you will only pay for services you need. For example, if you only need help with paperwork or you want a probate attorney to assist you at court hearings, you will be able to only “purchase” these services without paying for any extras you don’t need.

Note that not all cases are suitable for the unbundled approach. If your situation is more complex, you can still get in touch with one of our local unbundled attorneys for full representation. We can connect you today with a probate attorney in your area.

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