Probate can get expensive. Your loved ones will be faced with probating some or all of your assets if you don't have an estate plan and haven't taken steps to avoid the process. The overall cost of probate can vary depending on the type and the value of the estate's property. In general, the greater the value, the more probate will cost. You can probably count on your estate paying anywhere from 4% to 7%, or even more in some cases:
Court Filing Fees: Court fees are dictated by state law and can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars. It depends on the complexity of the estate and how many different forms must be filed. More complicated estates require more forms. The filing fee to open probate is typically a few hundred dollars. It's the same for all estates in some states, while others charge on a graduated scale with more valuable estates paying more. Florida charges $232.00 to open the probate estate, $236.00 for estate's less than $1,000 in value, and $346.00 for estates greater than $1,000.
Executor Fees: Executor fees are also dictated by state law, although decedents can specify in their Wills just how much their nominated executor (sometimes referred as the personal representative) should be paid. State law will apply when a Will is silent regarding this provision. A personal representative can ask for "extraordinary fees" for services rendered above and beyond basic probate duties. This might be the case if the decedent leaves a business that must be sold or otherwise transferred to beneficiaries. Personal representatives in Florida may charge a fee. According to S. 733.617, "A personal representative shall be entitled to a commission payable from the estate assets as compensation for ordinary services. Commission shall be based on the value of the estate, which is the inventory value of estate assets and income earned by the estate during administration." A 3% fee on the first $1 million in assets is presumed reasonable.
Attorney's Fees: If you're serving as an executor, personal representative, trustee, or administrator of an estate, you might need a lawyer's help with some part of the process. Probate attorneys file the petition, notice heirs and creditors, conduct a property inventory of assets and liabilities, and manage the litigation. The good news is that estate funds will almost always pay for that help. Still, you don't want to squander the estate's money and you probably want to know how much lawyers charge to help with probate of settling an estate. The total fees that estates paid for legal services were based on one of three types of fee arrangements charged by attorneys for probate and other estate administration work: hourly fees, flat fees, and fees based on a percentage of the estate's value. Hourly rate is dependent on the city and lawyer's skill level. Attorney's fees for simple cases averages $150/hour and can reach up to $300/hour for complex cases. For "ordinary" services, a lawyer can collect: 4% of the first 100,000 of the gross value of the probate estate, 3% of the next $100,000, 2% of the next $800,000, 1% of the next $9 million, ½% of the next 15 million and "a reasonable amount" of anything over $25 million. You can pay the attorney cash or you can opt to pay out of the estate.
Appraisals and Business Valuation Fees: Probate will require date-of-death values of real estate, business interests, and personal property, including assets like jewelry, antiques, artwork, boats, and cars. Appraisal fees for personal property can range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, while business valuation fees will run several thousand dollars.
Bond Fees: Your personal representative or executor will have to pay for and post a bond in an amount determined by the probate judge before they can be appointed. The estate usually pays for this. Some probate judges have required that bond be posted even when the estate has minor beneficiaries. You can waive the bond requirement in your last will and testament, but a judge might overrule your wishes if children are involved.
Miscellaneous Fees: Miscellaneous fees can range from the cost of postage to insuring and storing personal property, shipping personal property, and more. And this doesn't include any estate and income taxes that might be due and payable during the course of the probate administration. Taxes can further deplete an estate.
Don't have cash readily available to start probate? Here are some alternative payment options you can consider:
Distribution of Estate Proceeds: Attorneys supply the entire costs for probate in exchange for being compensated directly from the estate.
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Percentage of An Estate: Rather than paying an attorney out of estate proceeds, attorneys may accept a percentage the estate as compensation.
Pro Bono and Legal Aid: In Florida, you can waive filing fees by submitting an Application For Determination of Civil Indigent Status if you're income falls below specified thresholds. As to attorney fees, contact pro bono organizations to see if you meet criteria for free representation.