How much a probate lawyer costs and how they charge for their services
The death of a loved one seems to bring with it a plethora of tasks that have nothing to do with grieving—managing bills, planning a funeral, and going through the probate process. The expenses can quickly become overwhelming.
One of the costliest parts of the probate process for many families is the cost of hiring an attorney. On average, a probate attorney costs between $3500 and $7000 for simple cases. But complex estates or contentious probate processes can cost significantly more.
Understanding how probate attorneys charge for their services can help you decide whether to work with an attorney or choose other options to reduce the cost of probate.
How probate attorneys charge for their services
In many states, probate fees are set by statute—often as a percentage of the value of the estate.
For instance, in California an attorney can collect a percentage of the value of the estate.
For the first $100,000 of value, the attorney can collect 4% (aka, $4000).
For the next $100,000 of value, the attorney can collect 3%.
For the next $800,000, they can collect 2%. The percentage decreases from there.
Even in states where attorney compensation is set by statute, a probate attorney can request more if they do something considered “extraordinary,” such as helping with the sale of a business. This additional fee must be approved by the probate court as reasonable based on the work provided.
Some states leave it to attorneys to set their own fees, with an assumption that competition will effectively regulate the cost. For instance, in New York, probate attorneys can charge a flat fee to take on a probate case, charge by the hour, or charge a percentage of the estate.
Some attorneys may charge separate flat fees for different parts of the probate process—such as one fee to obtain the letters testamentary or letters of administration and another to settle the estate.
Most attorneys will require a retainer (down payment) to begin the work and charge the remaining balance once the estate assets are available. The retainer typically ranges from $1,500-$3,500, often limiting access to a low cost probate lawyer.
What increases the cost of a probate attorney?
Regardless of the method an attorney uses to charge clients, their fees will increase if there are complications with probate.
Some examples of issues that will increase the cost of retaining a probate attorney include:
- Problems with the will, such as provisions that go against state law
- Will contests from heirs or other interested parties
- Errors on the death certificate
- Significant numbers of parties to provide notice to, like dozens of potential heirs
- Additional court appearances, often because of will challenges or other abnormalities
- Significant time and attention requested by the client
Probate attorney’s flat fee agreements generally include language that allows for additional fees if problematic issues arise—making it difficult to know exactly how much a probate lawyer will cost you.
How to save money on a probate attorney
Saving money on a probate attorney is mostly about saving time. The less time an attorney has to spend on your probate matter, the less they’ll charge you.
- Negotiate. An attorney may charge a flat fee for all probate cases, but you can still negotiate with them. Suggest that they serve primarily as an advisor. You fill out the forms and provide notice of the deceased’s passing and simply have the attorney review anything you submit to the court.
- Choose expertise. Go with an attorney that’s familiar with the probate court where the estate will be handled so that they don’t spend any time getting up to speed.
- Limit your requests. Especially if an attorney charges by the hour, limit the number of times you shoot off a quick email or hop on the phone. All those minutes add up quickly.
Do I need a probate attorney?
The truth is, the majority of probate cases proceed without issue. And executors and administrators throughout the United States regularly complete the probate process without an attorney. (In fact, that’s what inspired our founder to start EZ-Probate.)
There are situations where we would absolutely recommend hiring a probate attorney—like if someone is contesting the will. But on the whole, probate is a completely manageable, if somewhat tedious, process. For more in-depth information on who does need a probate attorney and who doesn’t, read Do I need a probate attorney?
And we’re here to provide all the information you need to DIY it and save thousands of dollars. Start with our ready-to-sign probate forms.