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How Much Does a Probate Cost?

Feb. 1, 2020

There are two basic kinds of expenses associated with a probate, court costs and fees.

Court Costs

Not all court costs are paid to the court. For instance, probate referee fees and bond premiums are paid to the referee and bonding company but are considered to be court costs.

This is not a comprehensive list. It is basic. You will probably have court costs in addition to the ones described here.

As of February 16, 2017, the filing fee for the initial probate petition, and most other things you are likely to file in probate, is $465.00. You will have to pay at least two of these, one to file the petition and one to file the final account. That is $930.00 in total. This fee has gone up numerous times and is likely to go up again.

You will need to pay an adjudicated newspaper to publish a notice that the probate petition is pending. The cost of that varies according to where the decedent resided when he or she died. In Lancaster, California, where my office is located, it costs $755.00. This has also gone up numerous times and is likely to go up again.

An Inventory and Appraisal needs to be prepared. The probate referee who appraises everything except cash and cash equivalent also charges a fee that varies according to the value of the items appraised.

Unless it is waived, a bond must be posted. Depending on the amount of the bond, the annual premium will be hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. The first-year premium is nonrefundable. Starting the second year, the last bond premium paid is refundable pro-rata for the unused portion of the year.

Attorney Fees and Personal Representative Commissions

There are two types of attorney fees, ordinary fees, and extraordinary fees. The good news is that they aren’t payable until the court orders them, usually near the end of the process. The bad news is the amount.

Ordinary fees are paid regardless of how much work the attorney did on the estate. They are payable on the following schedule:

4% of the first $100,000 of the gross value of the probate estate.

3% of the next $100,000.

2% of the next $800,000.

1% of the next $9 million.

.5% of the next $15 million.

Gross value means the value without subtracting any debts, liens, etc. A $300,000 house with a debt of $290,000 on would be a $300,000 asset and an estate that had nothing in it but that house would entitle the attorney to $9,000 in ordinary attorney fees.

Then there are the extraordinary attorney fees. These are in addition to the ordinary fees. They are payable for a very long list of things an attorney does in an estate that the courts consider extraordinary. They include some things that are unquestionably extraordinary like litigation and some that you might expect would be included in ordinary services like talking to creditors. These are charged at the usual rate attorneys, like the one who is getting the fees, normally charge, figure $300 as the bare minimum per hour.

The personal representative is entitled to ordinary commissions on the same schedule as I wrote up above for ordinary attorney fees as well as extraordinary commissions generally calculated on what it would cost to have an outsider do similar work.

In most cases, the court costs alone are more than I charge for a living trust. A lawyer can easily make 10 times as much money doing probate than he or she would charge for a living trust and do 10 times as much work. The heirs pay much more and do a lot more work when their loved one fails to properly prepare his or her estate.

The opinions stated herein are general and might not apply to specific situations. If you have a specific legal problem, you should contact an attorney.