By Lloyd A. Welling, Esq.
March 9, 2019
Hiring an estate attorney can be intimidating, especially when you’re already dealing with the emotional and difficult circumstance of having just lost a loved one. It can become all the more intimidating when you have absolutely no idea how much the whole estate administration process is going to cost. You can take a lot of the fear out of this situation by becoming familiar with how estate attorneys typically charge. Also, once you have selected an estate attorney, make sure that you get their fee agreement in writing.
Who Pays for the Estate Attorney?
The estate attorney gets paid by the estate. Namely, if you’re an Executor or Administrator you are not personally responsible for these fees. Of course, if you are also an heir of the estate, then in a way you are paying those attorneys fees also because your share of the estate is ultimately being reduced by the payment of these fees. Typically, the estate will not be distributed until all of the probate costs and expenses have been determined and paid.
Is There a Difference Between Probate Costs and Legal Fees?
When your probate attorney tells you that there will be “costs” to be paid above and beyond the legal fees, what does that actually mean? Typically, during the probate process there will be a number of costs and filing fees that will need to be paid. These may include Register of Wills or probate court filing fees, estate advertising costs, property appraisals, deed filing fees, etc. Make sure that your fee agreement addresses how these costs are to be paid and by whom.
So How Do Estate Attorneys Actually Charge?
Basically, there are three main ways that estate attorneys charge for their services:
By the Hour
This may be the most common way that estate attorneys charge, but it might also be the most confusing. When you enter into this kind of billing arrangement you will literally have no idea what you are going to be paying until you get to the very end of the process. Remember, when you enter into an hourly rate agreement, you are going to be paying for every phone call, every meeting, every letter and every correspondence throughout the probate process. Likewise, you will also probably being paying separate hourly rates for those services being provided by the attorney versus those being performed by his or her paralegal and other office staff. I generally counsel people to stay away from this kind of a billing arrangement unless they are extremely comfortable and have a long history with the attorney they intend to hire.
On a Percentage Basis
A percentage basis fee agreement may often seem simple enough, but you probably want to look a bit closer. Namely, if an attorney proposes to you that they are going to base their fee on five (5%) percent of the total value of your loved one’s estate, things can start to get expensive pretty quickly. For instance, let say the estate is a fairly small one and consists of basically a house, a couple of bank accounts and some miscellaneous household items and personal effects. Well if the combined value of these items is around $200,000, doing the simple math means that a five percent fee would translate into a $10,000 dollar legal fee. Wow you might think, that seems like an awful lot for what should be a fairly simple and straightforward matter. Guess what, you’re probably right. So, if an hourly rate and a percentage basis aren’t necessarily the way to go, what else is left?
On a Flat Fee Basis
Another popular billing method is the flat fee basis. Most attorneys who have done a lot of estate administration work will have a pretty good after they have met with a potential client approximately how much work will be involved in that particular estate matter. As such, they are often willing to quote a flat fee for the legal services that they will be providing. I’ve found in our practice that most of our clients this type of billing arrangement. Why is this method generally preferable? Well, mainly because it takes all the mystery out of how much the legal fees are going to be. With a flat fee agreement, the client will know precisely what they will be paying when they get to the end of the estate administration process.
American Wills & Estates is a locally founded, owned and operated law firm that has been guiding clients in Pittsburgh and throughout Western Pennsylvania through the Probate Estate Administration process with competency, compassion and care for over 26 years. We have a number of convenient office locations and also offer home, hospital, evening and weekend appoints upon request. We provide comprehensive free initial legal consultations and offer the majority of our estate administration services on an affordable flat fee basis.
So, if you’ve been named as the Executor or Personal Representative of a loved one’s estate and are not sure where to turn for trusted, experienced and affordable legal assistance, give us a call today at (412) 381-7370 to schedule your free consultation or visit our law firm online. You’ll be glad you did!