Depending on the value of the estate, probate attorney fees in California can easily run over ten thousand dollars for even the simplest case. Fortunately, there are certain estate planning strategies that can be used to avoid probate altogether – and therefore help you avoid fees.

Even if you need a probate, you don’t necessarily need to use an attorney; there are other low-cost options to help you get through the process.

Read on to learn more about attorney fees for probate in California and how to avoid them:

What are Statutory Attorney Fees for Probate?

Under California law, an attorney that probates an estate gets paid a statutory fee in addition to added fees known as extraordinary fees – we’ll get to those later.

The statutory attorney fees are determined and calculated by the value of the assets in the probate. The percentage for the fee is set out in the state statutes (See Cal. Probate Code section 10810 and 10811).

How Are These Fees Calculated in California?

California uses a 4-3-2-1 system to calculate statutory probate attorney fees.

In this system, the attorney is entitled to 4% of the first $100,000 of the estate’s value, 3% of the next $100,000, 2% of the next $800,000, and 1% for amounts over $1 million. For example, if a home in Ventura County had a fair market value of $750,000, statutory fees under the 4-3-2-1 system would be calculated as:

  • 4% of the first $100,000=$4,000
  • 3% of the next $100,000=$3,000
  • 2% of the next $550,000=$11,000

In this case, the total statutory probate fee would be $18,000 – a very large number given the amount of legal work involved.

Unfortunately, statutory probate attorney fees are based on the total fair market value of all the estate’s assets. You can use our convenient online probate calculator to determine the statutory attorney fees for probate of a particular valued estate.

What Are Extraordinary Attorney Fees for Probate?

Extraordinary attorney fees are paid to the attorney probating an estate for extraordinary services – that is, services that fall outside those typically required for probate. Extraordinary fees are based on the following:

  • The value of the estate
  • The time spent performing extraordinary tasks
  • Whether the outcome of the extraordinary tasks benefits the estate

Extraordinary fees tend to arise in the events of the sale of real property, handling creditor claims against the estate, probate litigation, or aiding in difficult tax issues while administering an estate.

The probate court must approve the ordinary and extraordinary fees. However, since the estate representative usually sells real property during the probate process, extraordinary fees are quite common for many probated estates.

How Do Attorney Fees Get Paid?

The executor of the estate does not pay the attorney fees. Instead, the estate will pay such fees either upfront or upon final distribution of the estate assets, as determined in the statute.

The court will confirm the request for payment of attorney fees prior to an estate being closed. Keep in mind that attorney fees have priority over the payment of any other claims as well as distribution of assets to the beneficiaries.

Ways to Avoid Probate Attorney Fees

Believe it or not, many estates do not need to be probated! Even if yours does, proper estate planning is key to avoiding paying probate attorney fees.

Use the following methods to help eliminate attorney fees for probate or avoid probate altogether:

  1. Set up a living trust: Assets owned through a living trust do not need to be probated.
  2. Title real property in joint tenancy: Real property owned as joint tenant with right of survivorship does not need to be probated.
  3. Investigate probate alternatives for estates under $166,250: Small estates of less than $166,25 do not need to be administered through a full probate and can be settled using cheaper, simplified procedures.
  4. File spousal property petitions to change the titles of the assets to the surviving spouse’s ownership to avoid probate.
  5. Don’t hire an attorney to probate a simple uncontested estate: Using the services of a professional, experienced legal document assistant to handle the probate process will save you and the beneficiaries thousands of dollars. To determine your savings, use our probate calculator.

Contact A People’s Choice for more information about how to avoid paying unnecessary attorney fees in probate. Call today at 800-747-2780.

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