HOW TO HIRE AN ESTATE LAWYER AT THE BEST PRICE
If you’ve recently lost a loved one and are faced with the task of serving as the Executor of their estate, you’re probably going to need to hire lawyer to guide you through the probate process. The question is how do you find one that you’re comfortable with and how do you ensure that you’re getting one at the right price?
When it comes to probate estate administration, lawyers typically charge one of three ways:
The most common thing that you’re going to hear is that the lawyer’s fee is going to be based off of a percentage of the size of the estate at hand. Okay, what exactly does that mean? Well, at its simplest, that means if the estate is worth $200,000 and the lawyer says his or her legal fees are going to be based on five (5%) percent of the value of the estate you’re looking at legal fees of approximately $10,000.00. Wow you might think that sure seems like an awful lot for what would appear to be a pretty simple and straight forward matter. If that’s not bad enough, such fee arrangements are also typically in addition to the payment of the standard filing fees, costs and expenses associated with the estate administration process.
Some estate lawyers will tell you that they will handle the matter for a fee based on an hourly billing rate. Great you may think, that ought to keep the costs down a bit. Not so fast. When you enter into this type of fee arrangement you will literally have no idea what your final legal fee will be. You will be, quite literally, at the mercy of the lawyer. If he or she administers the estate in a timely and expedited manner you might do okay with such an arrangement, but if they drag their feet and unnecessarily prolong the administration process you might not be so happy when you get your final bill. These type of fee arrangements typically call for the lawyer to receive somewhere between $200 to $300 per hour for their work while their paralegals and other work staff will be billed out to you at rates ranging from $100 to $200 per hour. As you might guess, the legal fees can add up pretty quickly under this type of arrangement. Likewise, these types of fee arrangements also typically do not include all of the standard probate filing fees, costs and expenses.
So what’s left you might ask? Well the method that our law firm generally uses when determining an estate administration fee is to look at the specifics of the estate at hand and then set a flat fee based on same. That does not mean that we charge one specified rate for every estate that we handle, but it does mean that you’ll know exactly what you’re going to pay in advance. We look at several things when we’re determining what the flat fee is going to be. How large is the estate? What kind of assets are involved, i.e. real estate, stocks, bonds, etc.? Do the heirs and beneficiaries get along? Did the Decedent have a lot of creditors? And many other factors as well. Although not carved in stone, these kind of flat fees arrangements generally end up amounting to approximately three (3%) to three and one-half (3.5%) percent of the value of the estate. Perhaps the best part of this kind of fee arrangement is that we don’t expect to be paid until the administration of the estate has been completed. When an estate lawyer asks for a big part of their fee to be paid up front in the form of a retainer, this is generally a red flag and you might want to look elsewhere. The only monies we ever expect our clients to advance is a payment of $750.00 at the beginning of the process. These monies will be held by us in our client escrow account are used by us only to cover the filing fees, advertising costs and other out-of-pocket expenses that will be incurred during the process. When we get to the end of our administration, we will either return any monies left in escrow to you or subtract them from our legal fee.
Most importantly and regardless of the type of fee arrangement you end up entering into, make sure that it’s in writing and that you’re provided with a signed copy of same. Hope this helps simplify the process a bit. If you find yourself tasked administering a loved one’s estate and have questions, please do not hesitate to give us a call. At American Wills & Estates, we have been guiding clients throughout Western Pennsylvania through this often difficult process with competency, compassion and care for over 25 years. Give us a call today or visit us online at www.americanwillsandestates.com
Lloyd A. Welling, Esq.