How Much Does it Cost to Probate a Will?

By Lisa Magloff

Probate is the court supervised legal process that includes determining the validity of the will and transferring the legal title of property from the deceased to the deceased's heirs or beneficiaries. It also includes paying any debts owed and paying federal estate and income taxes. In most cases, the entire process is administered by an executor. In large estates, probate can be very complex and costly.

Small Estates

In most states, an estate does not have to go through the probate process if it is worth less than a particular amount. For example, California estates worth less than $100,000 do not need to go through probate, while in Wisconsin the threshold is $50,000. In addition, most states offer a shortened and simplified probate process for small estates. Each state has an amount for what qualifies as a small estate. If the estate does qualify for small estate probate, the probate courts will not require you to have a legal representative. This can save a great deal of money in legal fees.

Legal Costs

Each state has different probate laws, so the costs can vary a great deal. For most estates, both an executor and a lawyer will be required for the probate process. Some states set a limit on the amount of fees that lawyers and executors can charge for probate services. For example, in California, attorneys and executors can each take a maximum of 4 percent of the first $100,000 of the gross value of the estate, then 3 percent of the next $100,000, then 2 percent of the next $800,000, then 1 percent of anything over that amount. In some other states, the courts may set fees they feel are fair. According to finance expert Liz Weston of MSN Money, this is generally around 3 percent of the estate.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Additional Costs

In addition to the fees paid to the lawyer and the executor, there may also be appraisal fees, court filing fees, bond fees, legal fees and accountant fees. Federal and state estate taxes will also need to be paid on larger estates. The additional costs can vary greatly from one state to the next, depending on individual state requirements. According to attorney Ken LaMance of LegalMatch, the typical probate process costs anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of an estate, but can go as high as 15 percent. Some states also set limits on fees that can be charged. For example, California appraisal fees are limited to 0.1 percent of the value of the assets, while probate court fees were set at $320 as of 2009. LaMance points out that court fees in other states can be as high as $3,000.

Avoiding Costs

These are several ways that you can avoid paying high probate costs. One of these is through setting up a living trust. In a living trust, you transfer the majority of your estate to a trust while you are still alive. The trust then becomes the owner of your property, so probate is not required. You also designate a successor trustee, who would control the trust on your death. The successor trustee can then distribute the assets of the trust to the beneficiaries you have specified in the trust document. Property owned jointly with rights of survivorship also passes automatically to the survivors and does not go through probate. Life insurance, pension plans and retirement accounts are paid directly to the named beneficiary, so these funds also do not need to go through probate.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
What Does Probate for a Will Mean?


Related articles

Trusts Vs. Last Wills in California

Probating a will can be a long and expensive process depending on the size and complexity of the estate. The cost of probate gets paid directly from the estate, and can deplete some of the estate’s resources and assets. Accordingly, many people choose to use a trust as a legal mechanism to transfer their assets upon death. California state laws regulate both trusts and wills, which have several key differences.

What Is The Difference Between a Living Trust and a Last Will in North Carolina

There are two types of legal instruments commonly used for individuals to set the terms of the distribution of their assets upon death. First, a “last will and testament” is a legal document where the person drafting the will appoints an executor (or personal representative) to carry out the will’s instructions in the probate process. Second, a living trust is a legal document where the asset holder may unilaterally change it at any time. Laws for living trusts and probate are governed by state law. Accordingly, North Carolina state law governs the differences between wills and living trusts for residents of that state.

What Do I Do If My Father's Estate Doesn't Have Enough Money to Pay Taxes & Legal Fees?

The death of a parent or other loved one is a stressful and sad enough time without adding worries about settling his estate. The estate of a deceased person is responsible for satisfying his debts in addition to paying taxes, legal fees and other operating costs of the estate. Probate court, attorneys and the executor of the estate follow a specific process for paying off debt and handling any fees that cannot be covered by the estate.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help. Wills & Trusts

Related articles

How Much Can an Executor Charge for Services in Ohio?

When you die, someone must carry out the task of collecting and distributing your property. The process is known as ...

What Monetary Percentage Does an Executor of a Will Get in California?

California law allows an executor of an estate to receive compensation for his work on the estate. Specifically, the ...

What Percentage Does the Executor Get in Illinois?

An executor in Illinois handles your estate according to the instructions in your will. If there is no will, the ...

Can an Executor Charge a Beneficiary for Duties?

The executor of an estate is normally named in a valid will, appointed by the overseeing probate court, and is ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED