Probate can be quite confusing and complex, especially when estimating probate costs and fees including attorney/executor fees and payment schedules. At A People’s Choice, we try to explain the probate process as simply as possible to get you on the right track quickly. If you have questions about California probate costs and fees, the following information may help. You can also use our online probate calculator to determine the statutory attorney fees and see how much you will save using our services.
Attorney fees in probate proceedings are based on a statutory tiered scale calculated on the gross value of the estate. The allowed statutory attorney fees do not include court filing fees and other third party costs.
To start, what is a probate?
Probate is the legal process of distributing a decedent’s assets to the rightful beneficiaries or heirs after death. The probate process also validates an existing will. If a person dies with a will, his/her estate will be divided in accordance with the will at the end of the probate process. If a person dies intestate (without a will), his/her estate will be administered under California intestate succession laws. The decedent’s estate will have to go through the probate process in the Superior Court in the county which the decedent resided or owned real property.
In most estates a person has previously drafted and executed a will prior to their death which describes their wishes for the distribution of their assets. In the will, there is typically a named individual—most of the time it is a family member, spouse, or attorney — who has been appointed the executor of that will. It is up to the estate representative or executor to file a petition with the Superior Court to be formally appointed as the legal representative of the estate to start the probate process. It is important to note the difference between a nominated and appointed executor. Simply designating an individual in a will does not automatically mean they have legal authority to execute the will or administer the estate.
Once the estate representative is officially appointed, it will be his/her responsibility to compile an inventory of any estate assets, locate creditors, pay any bills left by the deceased at the time of his her/death, and will also be in charge of managing the overall estate assets. After the representative completes their appointed duties, they will have to file another petition to the Superior Court to grant permission to distribute the estate assets to the designated parties, such as family members, heirs and even charity foundations.
Schedule of Probate Costs and Fees in California
Now we will discuss the important stuff: California probate costs and fees. Before we discuss probate attorney fees and executor fees, let’s talk about the initial filing fees. In 2014, the court filing fee for filing a probate petition was $435 in most California counties. In addition to the initial petition fee, there is also another required filing fee of $435 when the Petition for final distribution of the estate assets is filed. The present fee should still be the same, but consult the registered legal document assistant helping you about possible fee changes in your county. Some counties do not follow the Statewide Fee Schedule.
There are other costs involved throughout the probate process. In addition to the filing fee, many courts also charge a court reporter hearing fee of $30 when a hearing is involved. Once the probate has been filed, there is a newspaper publication fee. This publication fee is usually between $180 and $250, however some smaller community newspapers charge as much as $600 to $700 for the publication process. Once probate has been approved, a probate referee will be required to appraise and value all non-cash assets. This fee is typically .01% of the value of assets appraised. Third party costs such as filing fees, publication fees, etc. typically range between $1200 to $1800 in an average estate with one house.
Probate attorney fees account for the largest cost to an estate. In California, section 10810 of the state’s Probate Code sets the maximum statutory fees that attorneys can charge their clients for the probate process. However, it is important to keep in mind that the court might order higher fees if the case is deemed a bit more complicated, such as the deceased individual having a large and diverse amount of estate assets. Higher fees are also allowed for extraordinary services such as handling creditor claims or selling real property. The value of the estate will determine the amount of attorney and executor fees, excluding extraordinary services.
The statutory attorney fees to probate an estate in California are as follows:
- 4% of the first $100,000 of the estate;
- 3% percent of the next $100,000;
- 2% of the next $800,000;
- 1% of the next $9,000,000;
- ½% of the next $15,000,000.
Use our convenient online probate calculator to determine the statutory attorney fees in an estate. Note, it is up to the court to determine the fee for estates larger than $25,000,000. To determine the schedule of attorney fees in California, you can refer to the Probate Code Section 10810. The estate representative is also entitled to statutory compensation, however often these fees are waived by the representative. Executors of the will can refer to Probate Code Section 10800.
Below is a reference chart for a combined fee for both the executor and attorney:
|PROBATE ESTATE VALUES||TOTAL ATTORNEY AND EXECUTOR FEES*|
*It’s important to note that an attorney will receive one-half of the sum and the executor will receive the other half. Again, this is simplified version of fee schedules for the probate process and should only be used a reference guide. The court allows higher fees, especially in complex cases, so the sum might exceed the figures in the table above.
So how can you avoid such high fees? As with all things estate-related, it’s best to prepare now. You and your family members should think ahead when it comes to planning your estate so that complications won’t be a burden to surviving members of your family or heirs down the line. Contact A People’s Choice to get your estate plans in order. If you need help to probate a will in California, using the services of A People’s Choice will save you thousands of dollars in California probate costs and fees. To find out how much you will save, use our online probate calculator. In addition, we can help you create a trust to avoid your heirs and beneficiaries having to probate your estate after your death.