How Much Does a Probate Lawyer Cost? If you’re already researching the cost of probate lawyers, chances are you won’t be surprised to hear that probate is expensive. Like very, very expensive. On average, the probate process for an estate costs approximately $14,000.

How Much Does a Probate Lawyer Cost?
How Much Does a Probate Lawyer Cost?

That sum includes filing fees, appraisal costs, administration costs, and everything in between. And although it is just a small aspect of the probate process, much of that $14K sum comes from costs associated with hiring and retaining a probate lawyer.

How Much Does a Probate Lawyer Cost?

On average, expect to pay between $200 and $500 per hour for a probate lawyer. There are four standard ways to charge for legal services in probate: hourly rate, flat fee, contingency fee, and percentage of the estate’s value. You don’t always have to get a probate lawyer. The bigger your estate and the more complicated the relationships between beneficiaries, the more you’ll need one.

What Does Probate Mean?

Probate is the court-supervised process of administering the estate of a deceased person, which includes paying off debts and distributing property to heirs. The estate is handled by either an executor named in the deceased person’s will or, if there was no will, by an administrator appointed by the probate court. This person is often simply called a personal representative.

What Is a Probate Lawyer?

A probate lawyer is a licensed attorney who specializes in probate matters. Probate lawyer fees, also called estate lawyer fees, are monies paid directly to the attorney for legal services; these are not the same as “probate costs” in general.

How Are Probate Lawyer Fees Charged?

There are four standard ways that lawyer fees are typically charged:

  • Hourly Rate

Many probate lawyers bill clients by the hour. The hourly rate will depend on how much experience and training the lawyer has, where you live, and whether the lawyer practices in a big law firm or a small one.

Small-town rates may be as low as $150/hour; in a city, a rate of less than $200/hour would be unusual. Big firms generally charge higher rates than sole practitioners or small firms, unless a small firm is made up solely of hot-shot specialists.

A lawyer who does nothing but estate planning and probate will likely charge a higher hourly rate than a general practitioner. The advantage for you is that a specialist should be more efficient. Someone who has steered many probates through the local court has probably learned all the local rules and how to prepare and file documents the way the court likes them.

When Does an Hourly Rate Make Sense?

. If the lawyer is assisting you through a general legal process.

. Set an end date for the process.

. If a lawyer is consulting you on a specific matter.

When Does an Hourly Rate Not Make Sense?

. If you plan on establishing a long-term business relationship with the lawyer.

.You are seeking a lawyer’s assistance in drafting a business contract.

. If you are seeking a lawyer’s assistance in bankruptcy proceedings.

. You are seeking the lawyer’s assistance in drafting a deed or will.

Advantages Of Hourly Rates

. There are many benefits to hourly rates:

. Lawyers and clients can proceed based on need. It can be ramped up or stopped depending on the level of need.

Disadvantages Of Hourly Rates

. You don’t know how much time certain tasks will take. The longer it takes, the more it costs.

. You won’t see exactly how many hours (or portions of hours) are worked on certain tasks until you receive the final bill.

. It’s easy to understand.

. Allow for flexibility.

. You know what you are paying for.

  • Flat Fee

It’s common for lawyers to charge their probate clients a flat fee. That way, they don’t have to keep down-to-the-minute records of how they spend their time. Lawyers don’t like keeping track of their billable hours any more than clients like paying for all those six-minute intervals, and because they have a good idea of how long an average probate will take, they can charge a fee that will be close to what they would get if they billed by the hour.

Flat fees depend on the prestige of the lawyer and the estate’s location; these fees can range anywhere from $3K–$5K up to $50K+ depending on the estate’s size and complexity.

When Does a Flat Fee Make Sense?

. If you are seeking a probate lawyer to draft a legal contract.

. You are seeking a probate lawyer to draft a will or deed.

. If you want to limit costs and only need the lawyer’s assistance for one specific purpose that can be accomplished quickly.

When Does a Flat Fee Not Make Sense?

. If you are seeking a probate lawyer’s assistance in a legal process or steps of a process.

.You are seeking to establish a long-term business relationship with the probate lawyer.

. If you are seeking complex legal advice with many variables.

Advantages Of Flat Fees

. There are no surprise costs.

. You know exactly what you are paying for and what to expect in return for your payment.

. This method of payment is transparent.

. You get the expenses out of the way.

. The lawyer does not have to track hours.

Disadvantages Of Flat Fees

. There is no flexibility.

. You cannot request additional services.

. There is no room for the lawyers to ramp up if your estate’s legal needs increase.

  • Contingency Fees

A contingency fee is a type of payment arrangement where a lawyer agrees to accept a set percentage of the total amount of money recovered in a case rather than billing by the hour. If no money is recovered, the lawyer does not get paid. Probate lawyers who work on contingency typically charge between 30% and 40% of the total estate value recovered.

For example, if the amount of an estate recovered is $100,000, the lawyer would charge anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000. The exact percentage varies depending on the complexity of the case and the amount of work involved.

In some cases, the attorney may also receive a percentage of any money that is recovered from creditors or other parties. If you are considering hiring a probate attorney, be sure to ask about their fee structure.

When Do Contingency Fees Make Sense?

. If there is a case with the possibility of a large monetary settlement.

. A high chance of the client winning the case.

. If there is a probate-related dispute—like a will contest—that could result in a monetary distribution.

When Do Contingency Fees Not Make Sense?

. If there is no case with the possibility of a large monetary settlement.

. You’re seeking assistance on a specific process or probate-related question.

. If you’re seeking assistance in drafting a contract, deed, or will.

. You’re hoping to establish a long-term business relationship with the probate attorney.

Advantages Of Contingency Fees

. You don’t have to pay any up-front costs.

. You will only have to pay the lawyer if you win a monetary settlement, so it’s not like the payment will even come out of your pocket.

Disadvantages Of Contingency Fees

. If you win a monetary settlement, you will be liable to pay the lawyers a significant portion of that settlement.

. Just because you don’t pay the lawyer’s fees doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay anything. You still have to pay other court fees and expenses involved in the case.

  • Percentage Of the Estate’s Value

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 is 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.

Let’s take a look at California’s statutory fee schedule to see exactly how much a probate attorney would make:

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

. 3% of the next $100,000

. 2% of the next $800,000

. 1% of the next $9 million

. 0.5% of the next $15 million

. A “reasonable fee” for anything else

When Does the Percentage of Estate Value Make Sense?

. If you have an excessively large estate and require a probate lawyer’s assistance for many legal issues, this might make financial sense.

When Does the Percentage of Estate Value Not Make Sense?

. This payment system will not make sense in most cases unless the estate is extremely large and complex; this payment method will not be financially advantageous.

Advantages Of the Percentage of Estate Value

. Good for large or complicated estates.

. Good for situations where you require a probate lawyer’s assistance throughout the entire probate process.

Disadvantages Of the Percentage of Estate Value

. Only allow in specific states

. Extremely expensive.

. You will end up paying more than with other methods of payment.

How To Reduce Probate Attorney 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:

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’s 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.

Leaving A Will

A will offer a roadmap for what to do with the deceased person’s assets. On the other hand, the absence of a will 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.

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.

Probate Lawyer Costs in Alabama

Lawyers in Alabama cost between $200 and $500 per hour on average.

Probate Lawyer Costs in Alaska

Lawyers in Alaska cost between $150 and $500 per hour on average.

Probate Lawyer Costs in Arizona

Lawyers in Arizona cost between $150 and $500 per hour on average.

Probate Lawyer Costs in Arkansas

Probate lawyers in Arkansas cost between $150 and $400 per hour on average.

What are the Advantages of Hiring a Probate Lawyer?

The advantage of hiring an experienced probate lawyer to handle the probate of an estate is that the lawyer knows how to proceed and can probably probate an estate most efficiently.

For example, if property, either personal or real, needs to be appraised and sold, an experienced probate attorney probably knows qualified appraisers who can perform the appraisal and auctioneers or agents who can complete the sale. A person without experience would not know how to proceed and would not have contacts who could be quickly hired to complete tasks.


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