The cost of hiring a probate lawyer varies throughout the United States. Each state has a set of statutes and guidelines necessary for the transfer of property after death. The requirements that must be followed in each particular state dictate the base amount of money the lawyer will charge to probate the decedent's estate.
According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the cost of probate can vary widely depending upon where it is located and the size of the estate. The average cost of hiring a lawyer for a standard estate is $1,500, but this amount can fluctuate with each additional detail entered into the distribution of assets. A probate attorney looks at when determining cost, such as court fees, appraisals, and investigative searches, all which he may roll into his fees.
Sole practitioners will often charge a flat rate for simple probates. Firms tend to charge per billable hour. According to Yale Law School, "you must make enough money from your billable hours not only to cover your salary and your overhead, but also to generate revenue for the firm." These hours are usually rounded to the nearest quarter hour, so that if the attorney spends 11 minutes on the phone with you, she may charge for 15.
Testate vs. Intestate
A testate estate simply means that the deceased has a will. This will help lower the costs when probating the estate because it is used as the guideline for distribution. The attorney and judge will be able to determine who the representative is and how the estate's assets should be dispersed. Without a will, or intestate, the court must add the expenses of searching for people and determining who gets which share of the estate, and a lawyer will typically add these fees into his cost.
In most states, if the estate is worth under a certain amount, then someone other than a lawyer, such as a family member, can be appointed administrator of the estate. This person is permitted to file court forms, pay the estate taxes and see to the distribution of the estate. The administrator will still have to pay court fees and expenses out of the estate, but can avoid the additional cost of a lawyer.
Finding a Probate Attorney
Many attorneys spread themselves into different areas of the law and are not experts in probate matters. Contact your local bar association to get a list of attorneys in your area. Ask whether they specialize in probate, and bring a written list of questions and any estate documents you have to your first meeting. Always ask for a written estimate of the costs at that first meeting, and check whether the attorney bills hourly or flat rate.