How Much Does It Cost to Probate a Will?

By Lee Hall, J.D.

How Much Does It Cost to Probate a Will?

By Lee Hall, J.D.

After a person dies, their assets ideally pay for the funeral costs and satisfy creditors. What remains goes to the heirs and beneficiaries of the person's will. This all happens through probate, a legal process overseen by a court in the county of residence of the deceased. The process begins when the executor, someone previously appointed by the deceased and named in the will, deposits the person's will with the probate court. The associated expenses vary with the size and complexity of the estate. The costs—expected and possibly unexpected, as outlined below—can quickly add up.

Three people look at paper

Adding Up Probate Costs

The typical probate process might cost around 10 percent of an estate. In some cases, the costs are higher, particularly if an accountant and attorney, as well as the executor, participate in the process.

Some states set limits on the fees that lawyers and executors can charge for probate services. For example, the executor usually receives 3 to 5 percent of the assets in commission as recompense for settling the estate. (Note to executors: commission is taxable income.)

In addition, expect the possibility of:

  • Attorney fees
  • Appraiser fees
  • Accountant fees
  • Court filing fees and executor bond fees
  • Extra costs for additional, out-of-state probate costs for assets held in multiple jurisdictions
  • Document translation (if the person dies overseas or the beneficiaries speak another language)

An accountant can explain the federal and state estate taxes and income tax required on behalf of the deceased. The executor should also anticipate costs of advertising and agents if the circumstances of the deceased dictate a sale of a large asset such as a car, boat, or house.

Major and unpredictable costs can arise if someone feels left out or slighted and decides to contest the will. For large estates, a contested will can prolong the process for years and cost thousands of dollars.

Planning During Life to Save Money After Death

You can avoid paying high probate costs by following a checklist.

  1. Consult the probate court or state law to learn the threshold value of an estate that must enter probate. Small estates may be exempt or at least qualify for a streamlined, low-cost process.
  2. Especially if your heirs are children, you can save the costs of having a conservator oversee their finances by setting up a living trust. While you're alive, you can transfer the bulk of your assets to a trust account that bypasses probate when you die. Your designated successor trustee, who oversees the account upon your death, distributes assets to your named beneficiaries.
  3. Title any significant out-of-state assets, such as a summer home, in a revocable living trust.
  4. Title major property under joint ownership with rights of survivorship if you want property to bypass probate and pass automatically to your survivor.
  5. Keep a significant part of your wealth in retirement accounts so it passes directly to the named beneficiary upon your death. Be sure to update your named beneficiaries when you experience key life changes, such as divorce.

Especially in large, complex estates, probate costs can run high. Managing costs takes some advance planning.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.