How Much Does a Probate Lawyer Cost?

Feb 1, 2024

Probate is often seen as a costly and time-consuming process, but understanding the key costs involved can help you better navigate this legal procedure. From executor and probate attorney fees to probate filing fees and other related expenses, we’ll help you understand what costs are involved and what variables your case might face.

What is probate?

Probate is the process for distributing a decedent’s assets like bank accounts, real estate, and financial investments. It involves administering the deceased person’s will or estate if there is no will.

How much does a probate lawyer cost?

The cost of probate varies widely from state to state, with the cheapest state being Alaska, where the average cost is around $1,000, and the most expensive state being California, where the average cost can exceed $26,000.

Probate can be a complicated and costly process, involving court fees, probate lawyer fees, and other administrative expenses. Understanding the range of costs associated with probate can help individuals and families better prepare for the financial implications of estate administration.

What you’ll pay, depending on your location

In New York, probate fees can vary significantly depending on the location and complexity of the case. The cost of probate in New York is based on a tiered scale, where the size of the estate directly affects the probate fees.

In addition to the tiered scale, attorneys in New York may charge hourly rates or flat fees for their services. The total cost can also vary depending on any complications that may arise during the probate process, such as disputes over the will or the need to sell real estate.

The total cost of probate in New York can be broken down by county, with some counties charging higher fees than others. For example, in New York City, the cost of probate can be significantly higher than in more rural areas. Additional costs, such as court filing fees, publication costs, and executor fees, can also contribute to the overall expense.

Probate cost by line item

Probate cost refers to the various expenses associated with the legal process of handling someone’s estate after they pass away. These costs can add up quickly, so it’s important to understand the main items that need to be paid for in the probate process.

For a rough estimate of how much your entire probate case might cost, refer to our probate calculator below.

Probate Cost Calculator
Estimated cost of probate based on your details
Attorney Fees
NYS Filing Fees
Executor/Admin Fees
Communications Fees
Real Estate Fees
The cost for probate will range from to

Below is an explanation of each line item in the calculator.

Court fees

In New York, the probate court fees for a Surrogacy court case can vary depending on the size and complexity of the estate. Common probate court fees may include a filing fee, notification fee, and document fees. The filing fee is paid to initiate the probate process and can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Value of EstateFee
Less than $10,000$45.00
10,000 but under 20,000$75.00
20,000 but under 50,000$215.00
50 000 but under 100,000$280.00
100,000 but under 250,000$420.00
250,000 but under 500,000$625.00
500,000 and over$1,250.00

Additional filing fees may be incurred for specific actions taken during the probate process, such as filing a petition for special administration or filing a motion for the sale of real property.

Executor fees

The executor in a probate case is the individual responsible for managing the deceased person’s estate. This includes handling their assets, paying off any outstanding debts, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will or the laws of intestacy. The executor has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries.

Executor fees are the compensation that the executor is entitled to for their services in managing the estate. Executors typically receive a progressive fee dependent on the estate value.

Estate ValuePercentage based executor fees
First $100,0005%
Next $200,0004%
Next $700,0003%
Next $4,000,0002.50%
Over $5,000,0002%

Interested party communicating or serving

When the number of beneficiaries in a probate case increases, it can significantly complicate the process and ultimately lead to increased fees. Each beneficiary may have different needs, preferences, and expectations, making it more challenging for the executor to manage and distribute the estate. Communication and serving the interests of multiple beneficiaries can become overwhelming, especially if there are disagreements or disputes among them.

With more beneficiaries involved, there can also be a greater likelihood of legal challenges, such as contesting the will or disputing the distribution of assets. This not only adds more complexity to the probate case but also increases the potential for prolonged litigation, ultimately leading to higher legal fees.

Real estate transfer & recording fees

Real estate transfer and recording fees in probate cases refer to the costs associated with transferring ownership of real estate property from a deceased person to their heirs or beneficiaries. When a property is transferred through probate, there are various fees that need to be paid to complete the transfer and properly record the new ownership.

In general, the more pieces of real estate involved in the probate case, the higher the total cost of transfer and recording fees will be.

Other potential probate fees to look out for

Accounting fees

Accounting fees for estate and probate cases can be impacted by several factors:

  • The overall estate value, including the types and value of assets owned, can play a significant role in determining the accounting fees.
  • Larger estates with complex asset portfolios may require more extensive accounting services, ultimately increasing the fees.
  • Additionally, the scope of services provided by the accountant, such as preparing the final tax return for the decedent and filing income tax returns for the estate, can also influence the overall accounting fees.

The final tax return for the decedent also requires careful attention to detail and accuracy, which can contribute to the overall accounting fees.

Probate bond fees

Probate bonds serve as insurance for the executor or administrator of an estate. They guarantee that the executor will properly carry out their duties and protect the assets of the estate. If the executor fails to do so, the bond provides financial protection for the beneficiaries of the estate.

Probate bond fees are determined by a few factors, including state laws and the size of the estate. State laws vary, so the fees can differ based on where the probate is taking place.

The process of determining probate bond fees typically involves the probate judge. The judge will review the estate and the proposed executor before setting the bond amount. The potential costs involved can vary depending on the size of the estate and the specific requirements of the court.

Other fees that stack up:

  • Shipping or postage fees for sending required documents and paperwork
  • Appraisal costs for valuing real estate, vehicles, or personal property
  • Business valuation fees for determining the value of a deceased person’s business or partnership interests
  • Notary fees for certifying legal documents and wills
  • Insurance fees for protecting assets and property during the probate process
  • Ancillary probate fees for handling out-of-state property or assets that are subject to probate in another jurisdiction

Who pays for the probate lawyer

The responsibility for paying the probate lawyer’s fees typically falls on the estate of the deceased individual. These fees are generally covered by the assets and funds within the estate, which may include cash, investments, real estate, and other valuable items. The probate lawyer’s fees are considered a priority expense and are typically paid before any distributions are made to the beneficiaries of the estate.

In most states, including New York, the payment of the probate lawyer’s fees and the process for covering them with estate funds are generally similar. However, specific rules and regulations regarding legal fees for probate may vary slightly from state to state. It is important to consult with a local attorney or legal expert to ensure compliance with the specific laws and regulations in the state where the probate process is taking place.

Kinds of Fee Arrangements

When it comes to fee arrangements in a probate case, there are generally three types to consider: hourly billing, flat fee, and a percentage of the estate’s value. Each option has its pros and cons, making certain types of fee arrangements more preferable in specific situations.

Hourly Billing

Hourly billing for probate involves the lawyer charging a set rate per hour for their services related to probate proceedings. This means that the lawyer will keep track of the time they spend working on the case, and then bill the client for that time at the agreed-upon hourly rate.

The lawyer will typically provide an estimate of how many hours they expect the probate process to take, and the client will be billed based on the actual time spent.

Hourly billing allows for a more detailed breakdown of the costs, as the client is billed according to the actual time and effort put into the case. This can provide transparency and ensure that the client is only paying for the time that the lawyer is actively working on their probate matter.

Flat Fees

Flat fees for probate refer to a one-time, pre-determined fee that is charged for handling the entire probate process. This fee includes all legal services and expenses related to the probate of an estate, regardless of the amount of work involved or the value of the estate.

With flat fees, clients are fully aware of the costs upfront, ensuring no surprise billing or hourly rates. This provides predictability and transparency for the client as they can budget for the probate process without worrying about escalating fees.

The flat fee arrangement can be beneficial for clients with simple estates or straightforward probate cases, as it eliminates the uncertainty of legal fees. However, for more complex cases, it may not always be the most cost-effective option as the flat fee might not accurately reflect the work required.

Percentage of the Estate’s Value

Percentage based fees for probate refer to the method in which the fees for probate services are calculated as a percentage of the total value of the estate being processed. This means that instead of charging a flat fee for their services, probate attorneys and other professionals involved in the probate process charge a certain percentage of the estate’s overall value.

This can be beneficial for both the client and the professional, as it ensures that the fees are directly tied to the size and complexity of the estate. This means that for smaller, less complex estates, the fees will be lower, while larger, more complex estates will incur higher fees.

How to keep an eye on costs

When dealing with legal matters, it’s important to keep an eye on costs. Negotiating flat fees or hourly rates with lawyers can help keep expenses in check.

It’s also crucial to get all agreements with an attorney in writing to avoid any misunderstandings about fees and services. Ask for explanations of any legal jargon on the bill to ensure transparency in billing.

One way to avoid unnecessary probate costs is to become the executor or administrator of the estate rather than using a third party.

Proper estate planning prior to death is the best way to manage probate costs. By setting up trusts or ensuring that certain assets transfer automatically, it may be possible to avoid probate courts altogether, saving time and money.