How much will probate cost your family?
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Probate is the legal process of reviewing and validating a person’s will and settling their estate. The California Probate Code outlines the fees that attorneys and executors of wills may charge for administering an estate. While probate always involves paperwork and court appearances, the court may set higher attorney fees for unusually complex or time-intensive probate cases.
Unless you have a trust and have properly transferred your assets into that trust, your family could end up paying thousands of dollars in probate fees. For an estimate of what your family might need to pay, use this handy calculator from Weiner Law.
Step 1: Fill out the form below to get started.
How Do You Know If You Need to Go Through Probate?
To determine whether it’s necessary to go through probate, total up the gross value of the following assets:
- Bank and brokerage accounts
- Life insurance (if the beneficiary is a minor)
- Business interests
- Retirement accounts (if the beneficiary is a minor)
- Total other assets
You may exclude the following assets:
- Assets administered under a living trust
- Assets passing by beneficiary designation, such as life insurance or retirement accounts, where the beneficiary is not a minor
- Jointly owned property when the surviving partner has rights of survivorship
- Payable-on-Death or Transfer-on-Death accounts
It is not necessary to file for probate when the estate’s assets total approximately $160,000 or less.
How Much Does Probate Cost?
The total your family pays in probate fees will depend on how large and complex the estate is. Our calculator gives you a rough estimate.
What Are the Minimum Fees an Attorney Charges for Probate?
Attorneys in California can charge a statutory fee set by Probate Law rather than an hourly rate. They may charge a cost per action, an overall percentage of the gross estate value, or a combination of the two.
The law stipulates the following for attorney’s fees, depending on the size of the estate:
- 4% on the initial $100,000
- An additional 3% on the next $100,000
- An extra 2% on the following $800,000
- A further 1% on the next $9 million
- An additional 0.5% of the following $15 million
As you can see, probate fees increase proportionally with the size of the estate. An estate worth $200,000 would require $7,000 in probate fees ($4,000 for the first $100,000 and $3,000 for the next $100,000), while an estate of $25 million could cost as much as $188,000. Law firms may set their minimum charges as they please within these limits.
Services that attorneys may charge for include:
- Petition for a health care directive
- Conservatorship review charge
- Property petition in favor of the remaining partner or spouse
- Petition for sale, lease, or grant of option
How Can Estate Planning Help You Avoid Probate Fees?
Effective estate planning can help you to ensure that your heirs receive maximum benefit from your assets and avoid the cost and aggravation that your family will have to endure if they are required to go through probate.
Three popular legal mechanism used for avoiding probate include:
- The formation of a revocable living trust: This allows you to place assets under the control of the trustees during your lifetime so that there’s no need for a probate court process later.
- Joint ownership: if you own assets jointly with someone else, such as a house owned jointly with your partner, in most cases your partner will inherit the asset without the need to go through probate. However, after both of you have passed away, probate would be necessary unless you have established a revocable living trust.
- Assigning beneficiaries: One reason life insurance payouts don’t fall under probate requirements is that you designate a clear beneficiary when you sign for the coverage. Assigning beneficiaries to retirement and other investment accounts has the same effect. However, if the beneficiary is a minor, this is not an effective way to avoid probate.
These options vary in terms of efficacy. Creation of a revocable living trust that has been designed with the specifics of your family in mind and with a view to achieving your particular objectives is the gold standard.
A straightforward estate with a will could take eighteen months to settle in California. During that time, your family will not have access to your assets and they will be stuck dealing with an arduous court process
When someone dies intestate, or without a will, the process slows considerably. Not only do the courts allow the four-month claim period for creditors, but they’ll insist that the executor provides proof of all potential heirs.
Tracing the heirs or settling disputes between family members can cause the process to drag on for several years.
To avoid probate, start preparing today. Ensure that:
- You have a legal, clearly worded, unambiguous will
- Speak to an estate planning attorney for advice on how to structure your assets to exclude them from the probate process
- Work with your attorney to create a living trust that is crafted to achieve your particular goals
- Ensure that your assets are properly transferred into your trust. You should work with your attorney to ensure this is completed properly
- Assign clear beneficiaries with your insurers or retirement account providers
It is critical to create a file listing details of your assets, insurances, debts, and investments while you’re alive. This is something that we create for each of our estate planning clients. This document is kept up to date and reviewed at your check up meeting every 3 years.
Yes. In California, you can complete the probate process without an attorney even if there is no will.
However, any time there is a probate that means there has been a failure to plan. Probate represents a failed estate plan. An effective estate plan means your family never have to deal with the probate court process.
If it turns out that a probate is needed, things to consider before conducting probate without an attorney are:
- How many beneficiaries are there? The greater the number of beneficiaries, the more complex the process may become.
- Are the heirs willing to cooperate? If all the heirs agree on the distribution of the estate, it is more simple to process it. However, when relatives contest the terms of the will, it’s better to hire an attorney.
- Do you understand all the steps to take? As an executor, you have a legal obligation to act according to the letter of the law. Inadvertently missing a step may leave you personally liable for civil suits or even criminal charges later on.
Would you like advice on where you stand? Do you wish to discuss an estate plan that legally minimizes probate costs? Call (858) 252-4768 and schedule an appointment at The Law Office of Daniel R. Weiner for advice and legal support throughout the probate process.