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Understanding Probate Costs in California: Ordinary and Extraordinary Fees



Probate is the legal process of administering a deceased person's estate, including the validation of their will, payment of debts, and distribution of assets to beneficiaries. While probate ensures that the deceased’s affairs are settled properly, it can be a costly and time-consuming process. In California, probate costs can vary widely depending on the complexity of the estate and the services required. This blog will outline the typical costs associated with probate in California, including ordinary and extraordinary fees as well as court costs.


Ordinary Fees

Ordinary fees in probate refer to the standard compensation paid to the executor (or personal representative) of the estate and the probate attorney for their services. California sets statutory fees for these services based on the value of the estate. The fees are calculated as a percentage of the gross value of the estate, as follows:


  • 4% of the first $100,000

  • 3% of the next $100,000

  • 2% of the next $800,000

  • 1% of the next $9,000,000

  • 0.5% of the next $15,000,000

  • For estates valued above $25,000,000, a reasonable amount is determined by the court for the portion above $25,000,000


Example Calculation

For an estate valued at $1,000,000, the ordinary fees would be calculated as follows:


  • 4% of $100,000 = $4,000

  • 3% of $100,000 = $3,000

  • 2% of $800,000 = $16,000


Total Ordinary Fees = $4,000 + $3,000 + $16,000 = $23,000


This $23,000 would be paid both to the executor and the probate attorney, resulting in a total of $46,000 for ordinary fees.


Extraordinary Fees

Extraordinary fees are additional costs that may be charged for services beyond the typical administration of an estate. These services can include:


  • Handling litigation related to the estate

  • Selling real property or businesses

  • Managing complex tax issues

  • Dealing with unusual or difficult aspects of the estate


The court must approve extraordinary fees, which are typically billed at an hourly rate. These rates can vary depending on the complexity of the work and the experience of the attorney or executor.


Typical Hourly Rates

  • Attorneys: $350 to $675 per hour or more, depending on experience and location

  • Executors (if not a family member): Similar hourly rates to attorneys, often ranging from $50 to $150 per hour for professional fiduciaries


Court Costs and Other Fees

In addition to attorney and executor fees, there are several other costs associated with probate, including:


1. Filing Fees

  • Initial petition for probate: $435 to $650, depending on the county

  • Additional motions and petitions: $200 to $450 each


2. Publication Fees

  • Publishing notice of probate in a local newspaper: $200 to $1500


3. Appraisal Fees

  • Probate referee fees for appraising the estate's assets: Approximately 0.1% of the total value of the appraised property


4. Bond Fees

  • If the court requires a bond to protect the estate's assets, the cost is typically a small percentage of the estate's value (0.5% to 1% per year)


5. Miscellaneous Fees

  • Certified copies of court documents: $25 to $50 per document

  • Mailing and postage costs: Variable, depending on the number of notices and documents


Total Estimated Probate Costs

The total cost of probate in California can vary significantly based on the size and complexity of the estate. Here is an example breakdown for an estate valued at $1,000,000:


  • Ordinary executor fees: $23,000

  • Ordinary attorney fees: $23,000

  • Court filing fees: $1,000

  • Publication fees: $300

  • Appraisal fees: $1,000

  • Bond fees: $2,000 (assuming 0.5% for one year)

  • Miscellaneous fees: $500


Estimated Total Probate Costs = $50,800


This estimate does not include any extraordinary fees, which can add significantly to the total cost if litigation or other complex issues arise.


Conclusion

Probate costs in California can be substantial, especially for larger or more complex estates. Ordinary fees are calculated based on the value of the estate, while extraordinary fees and other costs can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the estate. Understanding these costs can help you plan more effectively and consider alternatives to probate, such as establishing a living trust, to minimize expenses and streamline the estate administration process. Consulting with a probate attorney can provide further guidance tailored to your specific situation.


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