Dealing with the probate process in California can be an intricate and often costly affair. Most people recognize that California’s probate fees are expensive, with the state’s statutory attorney’s fees accounting for a majority of that cost. 

However, there’s more to the story when it comes to the cost of probate. From “extraordinary services” that enable attorneys to earn additional compensation to alternative paths that can be pursued without a lawyer, the landscape of California probate is multifaceted. 

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive picture of probate fees in California, offering insights and guidance on how to navigate this complex system. Whether you are an estate administrator, beneficiary, or simply interested in understanding more about probate, read on for a detailed exploration of this critical legal process.

Probate in California: An Overview

Understanding probate costs in California requires a thorough examination of various factors that constitute the overall fees. Here’s a breakdown of key aspects to provide an insightful overview of probate in the Golden State:

  • California Probate Fees Structure
    The probate fees in California can be quite hefty, especially when you consider statutory attorney’s fees and extraordinary services. The latter, defined by the court, can lead to additional compensation for performing special tasks during the probate process.
  • Alternative to Traditional Probate
    You don’t always have to follow a formal administration process with an attorney. With the appropriate probate documents, a less complex case can be handled on your own or with the help of a legal document assistant.
  • Importance of a Clear Will
    If the deceased person left behind a well-defined will that states how personal property should be distributed, the probate process becomes more straightforward. It can save time and reduce unnecessary costs.
  • Beneficiary Designation
    Information on beneficiary designation is vital as it enables simple transfer procedures. It can make the probate process more efficient and lessen the need for extraordinary legal services.
  • Estate Size
    Probate fees are directly related to the size of the estate. Larger estates demand higher compensation for attorneys, which should be specified in the probate notice.
  • Managing Extraordinary Costs
    Estate administrators looking to avoid added California probate fees should be aware of potential extraordinary costs and educate themselves on managing these additional expenses.
  • Affordability Considerations
    Understanding the cost structure is vital to ensure that you can afford a reasonable compensation claim to the property you want to probate.

By familiarizing yourself with these aspects of California’s probate system, you’ll be better prepared to navigate this often-complex legal process.

Probate Fees in California

Probate fees in California can vary significantly and are often considered expensive, with attorney’s statutory fees accounting for a majority of the cost. Understanding the common and extraordinary fees is crucial to navigating the probate process in California.

Common California Probate Fees

Navigating probate in California involves encountering several standard fees. These include:

  • Filing Fees — Costs associated with submitting required legal documents
  • Appraisal Fees — Charges for valuing the estate’s assets
  • Attorney’s Statutory Fees — Standardized legal fees, often cited as the major contributor to California’s high probate costs
  • Extraordinary Services Fees — Additional costs for complex or non-routine legal services, determined at the court’s discretion

Why Do Many People Fear Additional Probate Costs?

The fear of additional probate costs is a common concern among individuals navigating the probate process in California. Many worry about the lump sum attorney fees, extraordinary services that might be required, and other unforeseen complications that can arise during the legal process.

While some may anticipate significant expenses, it’s important to recognize that there are affordable options and strategies to manage costs. These may include choosing lawyers who provide ordinary services at reasonable rates, clearly defining the will for estate assets, and understanding the specifics of extraordinary administrative services that might incur additional fees.

With careful planning and awareness of the potential expenses, the fear of additional probate costs can be mitigated.

What Constitutes “Extraordinary” Services?

According to the California rules of court, the following services are examples of those considered “extraordinary” and, therefore, eligible for additional attorneys’ fees:

  • Legal services in connection with the sale of real property held in the estate
  • Services to secure a loan to pay estate debts
  • Defense of the personal representative’s account
  • Defense of a will contested after its admission to probate
  • Extraordinary tasks carried out to locate estate assets
  • Accounting for a deceased, incapacitated, or absconded personal representative under Probate Code section 10953

While this is not an exhaustive list, it includes some of the more common examples of extraordinary administrative services during a probate proceeding for the real estate case. For example, at times, interested parties do contest wills, and personal representatives may not necessarily feel comfortable defending the probate documents of the probate estate. Thus, these situations typically require additional action from a lawyer outside of their normal probate responsibilities during the legal process. Other aspects that may call for additional fees from an attorney include ancillary administration, ancillary petition, and petition for approval.

Therefore, a considerate personal representative to the deceased will understand the need for statutory compensation through a client-centered service. An attorney may also request additional compensation if they get involved in performing other obligations on estate property and non-cash assets. You can also incur extra costs by paying probate referee fees. If a petition exists for the appointment of a personal representative, the attorney may also charge additional fees up to hundreds of dollars.

How Much Do California Probate Fees on Extraordinary Services Cost?

The extraordinary California probate fees for lawyers vary by situation. Plus, the court has the power to set the additional fee amounts, so they are generally difficult to estimate (especially for complex matters). For estates larger than $25 million, the court holds the mandate to determine the cost of probate. However, we can look to past cases in California Probate Courts to get a better idea of their additional fees compensation.

For example, in the 2008 case of Estate of Lopez in the California Appellate Court, the administrator of the estate procedure appealed the Probate Court’s decision to award additional compensation to his attorney. Through a notice of appeal, the administrator cited additional costs in the fee list.

In this case, the probate lawyer helped the executor (court-suspended) deal with troublesome accounting issues and avoid an additional charge. As a result, the lawyer charged an extraordinary fee of $14,772.30 to account for nearly 70 hours of additional work. The value of the estate was $1,124,728.44. Although a personal representative of the estate appealed the extraordinary fees, the court denied this request.

Reducing Extraordinary California Probate Fees for Attorneys

Unfortunately, while you may, as described above, object to an attorneys’ extraordinary fees, it’s not the best way to save money on your California probate fees. Instead, the best way to prevent extraordinary fees (or revocation of probate) is to avoid hiring an attorney to handle your probate matter and focus on self-administered probate.

This could either apply for an hourly rate or a fixed price. For example, if you are the executor of a simple, uncontested estate in California, you may not need to hire a legal representation for your current probate petition and subsequent petition. At A People’s Choice, we provide special administration services for property subject to probate.

As an executor, you have authority over estate assets belonging to the deceased. Therefore, you can discuss the cost of probate with the designated beneficiaries. For complicated assets, you can sell some of the estates with assets to afford the probate fees. Make sure to only pay a reasonable compensation for a basic probate administration. When the formal administration process begins, you need to determine whether an ancillary asset from your probate assets exists that may demand extra fees.

Instead, consider working with a registered legal document assistant such as A People’s Choice. We provide flat-fee, low probate cost assistance when completing probate administration. It’s just a matter of paperwork before everything gets completed. Plus, we can customize our services to fit your needs in a subsequent petition. Therefore, you’ll minimize the amount you pay beyond basic court probate fees.

How Much Does Probate Cost in California?

Understanding the costs of probate in California can be crucial for proper financial planning and estate management. The California statutory probate fees for 2023 are determined by the value of the gross estate.

Gross Estate Value Fee Percentage
First $100,000.00 4%
Next $100,000.00 3%
Next $800,000.00 2%
Next $9,000,000.00 1%
Next $15,000,000.00 0.5%
Above $25,000,000.00 Court will determine


For a gross estate valued at $500,000:

  • 4% on the first $100,000 equals $4,000
  • 3% on the next $100,000 equals $3,000
  • 2% on the next $300,000 equals $6,000
  • Total probate fees: $13,000

The probate process in California may also involve additional costs such as filing fees, appraisal fees, or fees for extraordinary services. It is advisable to consult a professional who can guide you through the process and provide a clear understanding of the complete cost structure for your estate.

Use our Attorney Fee Calculator for an accurate estimate based on your specific situation >>

Factors That Affect Probate Cost in California

Probate costs in California can vary widely depending on many variables related to the estate and the specific circumstances surrounding the probate process. Here are some key factors that can influence the overall cost:

  • Size and Complexity of the Estate:
    • Larger estates often require more administrative effort, leading to higher costs.
    • The presence of numerous assets, multiple beneficiaries, or complicated financial structures can increase legal and administrative expenses.
  • Type of Assets Involved:
    • Assets that require specialized appraisals or are difficult to value may contribute to higher probate costs.
    • Real estate properties, business interests, and unique collections often require specialized handling.
  • Legal Challenges and Will Contests:
    • If the will is contested or there are legal disputes among beneficiaries, legal fees can skyrocket.
  • Extraordinary Services Required:
    • Certain tasks considered “extraordinary” under California law may necessitate additional fees, such as defending a contested will, managing a business, or dealing with complex tax issues.
  • Fees for Professional Services:
    • The fees charged by attorneys, executors, appraisers, and other professionals involved in the process can vary significantly based on their experience, expertise, and the specific services required.
  • Location of Assets and Beneficiaries:
    • The geographical location of assets and beneficiaries can affect costs, particularly if they are spread across different jurisdictions.
  • Time Required for Probate:
    • Delays in the probate process, whether due to legal challenges, slow asset liquidation, or other factors, can increase the costs due to extended legal and administrative efforts.
  • Court Costs and Other Administrative Expenses:
    • Filing fees, publication costs, and other administrative expenses are standard but can vary by jurisdiction and complexity.
  • Estate Taxes and Other Obligations:
    • Depending on the value of the estate and existing debts or tax obligations, these can add to the overall cost of probate.
  • Choice of Legal Representation and Executor:
    • Opting for self-administered probate or working with a legal document assistant can minimize costs compared to hiring a traditional probate attorney.

10 Tips to Minimize Probate Fees

Probate can be an expensive process, but there are strategies to minimize these costs. Here are 10 tips to help you navigate the probate process without unnecessary expenses:

  1. Create a Comprehensive Estate Plan
    A well-thought-out estate plan can streamline the probate process, reducing legal complexities and associated costs. Consider tools such as trusts to bypass probate altogether for certain assets.
  2. Keep an Updated Inventory of Assets
    Maintaining a clear record of all assets and their values can simplify the appraisal process and reduce costs.
  3. Utilize Joint Ownership and Beneficiary Designations
    Jointly owned assets and those with designated beneficiaries often avoid probate, potentially saving substantial fees.
  4. Opt for a Simplified Probate Process (if Eligible)
    Many states, including California, offer simplified probate options for smaller estates, reducing both time and expenses.
  5. Avoid Will Contests and Family Disputes
    Clearly communicating your intentions and using professional legal drafting can minimize potential disputes that can lengthen and complicate probate.
  6. Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
    If disputes arise, consider mediation or arbitration to resolve issues more cost-effectively than traditional litigation.
  7. Hire Professional Help Wisely
    Evaluate your need for legal representation carefully, considering alternatives like legal document assistants for less complex estates.
  8. Minimize Extraordinary Services
    Avoid unnecessary extraordinary services that may incur additional fees; clearly define roles and expectations with any legal professionals involved.
  9. Consider Selling or Donating Non-essential Assets
    Simplify the estate by liquidating or donating non-essential assets, potentially reducing appraisal costs and complexities.
  10. Educate Yourself and Stay Involved
    Understanding the probate process and staying actively involved can help you make informed decisions and avoid unnecessary expenses.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is probate in California?

Probate is the legal process by which a person’s estate is administered after death, ensuring that assets are distributed according to their will or state law. It involves validating the will, paying debts, and distributing assets to beneficiaries.

How long does probate take in California?

Probate in California typically takes between nine and 18 months, but it can be longer if there are complex issues, disputes, or delays in the process.

Can probate be avoided in California?

Yes, probate can often be avoided through proper estate planning, such as setting up living trusts, joint ownership, or designating beneficiaries for certain assets such as life insurance or retirement accounts.

How much does probate cost in California?

Probate costs in California vary based on the estate’s value and complexity. Statutory fees for attorneys and executors range from 4% of the first $100,000 to 0.5% of amounts over $15,000,000, with courts determining fees above $25,000,000.

Can I handle probate by myself in California?

While it’s possible to handle probate yourself, it can be a complex and time-consuming process. Professional help, such as a registered legal document assistant, can provide cost-effective assistance.

What happens if there is no will in California?

If there is no will, California’s intestate succession laws dictate how assets are distributed, typically to the deceased’s closest living relatives in a specific order.

Are all assets subject to probate in California?

No, certain assets, such as those in a living trust or jointly owned, are not subject to probate and can be transferred outside the probate process.

A People’s Choice has over 40 years of experience in assisting individuals with their legal documents in the California court system. Also, we have established an excellent reputation in the community. Call today at 1-800-747-2780 to learn more about how we can help.