Last updated on July 10th, 2024 at 05:04 pm

As an administrator or executor, it’s essential to understand the costs of hiring an attorney to help handle the rightful distribution of assets. 

In this article, we’ll explain who is responsible for paying probate lawyer costs. We’ll also discuss common fee structures and a few considerations you should keep in mind during this difficult process. 

Who Is Responsible for Paying Probate Attorney Fees?

Probate attorney fees are covered out of the estate, so executors and administrators have no debt with the law firm carrying out the asset distribution process. 

Moreover, probate attorneys are not paid until the estate is fully settled and the remaining assets are distributed among the rightful beneficiaries thereafter. 

Exceptions and Special Circumstances

There are some scenarios where representatives and beneficiaries may have to bear some costs. 

If the monetary value of the assets requires probate, but there isn’t enough liquid cash to cover all fees, the beneficiaries may have to cover the initial costs. In this scenario, the beneficiary would be reimbursed once the estate is liquid. 

If the will is being contested in a court of law, executors and beneficiaries may have to pay for their legal representation. Depending on the outcome, it may be possible to get reimbursed out of the estate, but this will vary based on the ruling.

What’s the Role of the Executor or Administrator?

Now that we’ve explained who pays probate attorney fees, let’s go over the role of the executor or administrator.

The executor or administrator is the person or entity directly in charge of managing the estate of a deceased person, also known as the decedent. This includes documenting liabilities, paying off creditors, and ensuring that the estate’s beneficiaries receive any remaining assets. 

Executors are appointed in the will and often have more flexibility because they work within the confines of the decedent’s testament. This is becoming less common; as of 2022, 67% of Americans admit to not having estate planning

Administrators, on the other hand, are appointed when there is no will and when the executor is not designated. Moreover, if the executor cannot or refuses to oversee the probate process, then an administrator is mandated by the court. 

How Probate Attorney Fees Are Structured

Probate attorney fees are usually structured as either an hourly, a flat fee, or a percentage of the estate. 

Hourly rates can range heavily based on the attorney’s expertise, specialty, and experience. Not only this, but complex cases require more hours, which translates to higher probate fees. 

Flat probate fees are set before the probate process begins, so the costs don’t change based on other factors. Most probate attorneys in Washington start around $3,500 for assets tallying $100,000 and upwards for larger estates. 

Lastly, some attorneys may charge a percentage of the estate. In these cases, the percentage rate is dictated either by the will or decided by a court. 

In most cases, this is between 3% and 6% of the total value of the estate, although it’s also possible to see arrangements that have a 7% for the first $100,000 and a descending commission on the remainder of the estate. 

Factors Influencing Costs

Probate attorney fees vary based on a large number of factors, including the size of the estate. Other issues that influence costs include:

  • State laws, requirements, and market rates
  • Whether the will is being contested
  • The absence of an estate plan
  • Number of assets involved
  • Debts and disputes
  • The attorney’s level of expertise
  • Number of beneficiaries

Managing Probate Attorney Fees

Working with a probate attorney can simplify things during this difficult time, but it’s important to know how to manage the interactions with your lawyer. 

Start by familiarizing yourself with the probate process as this will give you an idea of the individual actions that need to take place. These include:

  • Appraisers
  • Attorney fees
  • Administrator fees
  • Probate bond costs
  • Publication fees

Next, it’s important to get multiple quotes and discuss the payment terms upfront. During the fee negotiation, you can potentially agree on a cap for hourly charges or similar terms that provide some financial relief. 

Organizing Documents and Information

The probate process can last months, but taking steps like preparing all the documentation can help speed it up as much as possible. Some of the documentation you will need includes:

  • Death certificates
  • Last will and testament
  • Beneficiary designations
  • Pre or post-nuptial agreements
  • Insurance policies
  • Asset deeds
  • Loan agreements
  • List of known debts
  • List of medical expenses

This list can vary depending on your case, so get in touch with us and our probate attorneys will provide all the necessary information. 

Maintaining Transparency and Communication

Your attorney should proactively communicate with you during the probate process and provide updates on any fees or expenses covered. 

At the same time, you should make your expectations clear in terms of financial updates and billing to ensure you’re on the same page.

Legal and Financial Considerations

Probate attorneys can simplify the process and ensure that an estate is settled properly, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind. 

Understanding the Probate Process

First off, it’s crucial to understand the steps that take place during the probate process. Every estate is different, so it’s necessary to assess each individual case to know what requirements have to be fulfilled. 

In the majority of cases, the probate process includes steps like:

  • Petitioning a court to begin the probate process
  • Give notice to creditors, beneficiaries, and other relevant parties
  • Take an inventory of the assets and appraise them if necessary
  • Pay taxes, clear any outstanding bills, and settle leftover debt
  • Distribute remaining assets
  • Submit remaining papers to court and close the estate

Financial Planning for Probate Costs

After negotiating with your attorneys, it’s a good idea to set aside funds within the estate to cover probate fees.

Depending on your market and the number of assets, probate costs can reduce the size of an estate. As such, it’s important to maintain communications with beneficiaries and heirs to ensure their expectations are aligned with reality. 

Tax Implications

Part of the probate process involves reporting and paying taxes. Here, it’s important to note that attorney fees, along with other costs like appraisers, can be deduced from the estate’s state tax bill. Additionally, other state taxes may apply to the estate, for instance, if the decedent lived outside of Washington.

The commission administrator or executor is likely subject to tax at the state and federal levels. You should speak with a local tax specialist to find out about state law, and you can use this IRS executor tax calculator to learn more about paying federal taxes. 

 

Understanding who pays probate attorney fees is essential to getting the right attorney and handle the process swiftly during a difficult period. An experienced legal team can organize appraisals, handle court filings, and ensure that the beneficiary receives the appropriate assets once the estate is fully settled.

Our legal professionals have experience managing all types of cases, so contact Anderson Hunter Law Firm for assistance with probate and estate planning today.

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