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  1. #1
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    Default What Level of Services and Fees Should I Expect from an Estate Attorney

    My question involves estate proceedings in the state of: California.

    My mother passed recently. I am named executor and trustee for her will and trust.
    She has a pour-over will. She doesn't have much in the way of assets, but her trust does have a paid-off house titled to the trust.

    I'm looking for an attorney to help me with those duties and I'd like to know what range of services I could expect from him or her. Or is there even a range of services?

    I don't know if I should expect just a one hour consultation, prepare my questions as comprehensively as I can, take copious notes, and then off I go trying to do everything myself properly on my own; only returning for another hour of consultation if I think of new questions. Kind of like a pay-as-you go engagement.

    Or do I explain what I need done, and the attorney quotes me a fixed fee, takes it from there, handling all forms, court visits & filings, notifications, etc, and provide me progress updates along the way and assigns me action items for things I need to do.

    Or is it something in between those two extremes?

    Also, any ball-park estimates on what I can expect to pay in fees would be appreciated.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: What Level of Services and Fees Should I Expect from an Estate Attorney

    Generally, an attorney for an estate will be paid a percentage based on the value of the estate.

    ETA: Please keep all your question on this matter in one thread.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: What Level of Services and Fees Should I Expect from an Estate Attorney

    Quote Quoting PayrolGuy
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    ETA: Please keep all your question on this matter in one thread.
    Apologies for that. I guess I was being too granular in what constitutes a topic.

    Maybe my follow-up question is too granular too, but here goes. I always thought
    an estate was everything that isn't in a trust. My uncle had a trust,
    but he never updated it, so it was essentially empty when he passed. I had to go
    through probate to move his assets from his estate into the trust before I could
    distribute anything to beneficiaries. I had to open an estate account to collect all
    of his assets into, and once I got an order from the probate court, I had to move
    those (now liquidated) assets into a trust account to pay the beneficiaries from.

    My mom's estate will have nothing in it (if I'm defining the term correctly) as
    everything she has is already in her trust. Is the fee schedule applied to the
    combination of the estate and the trust? It seems as though that's what you're
    saying.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: What Level of Services and Fees Should I Expect from an Estate Attorney

    Again. Keep EVERYTHING to do with this issue in the original thread.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: What Level of Services and Fees Should I Expect from an Estate Attorney

    Quote Quoting PayrolGuy
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    Generally, an attorney for an estate will be paid a percentage based on the value of the estate.
    Sadly in California that's true because California is one of the very few states that sets probate attorney and personal representative fee rates by statute as a percentage of the estate. See California Probate Code section 10810. This means that both the attorney and the personal representative are entitled to that fee. Moreover, it is based on the gross estate, not reduced by the debts of the estate. And even worse, this only covers ordinary work done, not all the work that is done. So if you want to know one of the key reasons why California probate is considered so expensive, this statute is one of the big reasons.

    This fee schedule is not strictly speaking mandatory; it sets out the maximum that the lawyer may charge. So a lawyer could charge by the hour or flat fee so long as the total fee did not exceed the statutory maximum. But the vast majority use the statutory schedule because it is so lucrative. The personal representative (PR) may elect to receive no compensation (common when the PR is also a beneficiary).

    But the fee only applies to the value of the estate. It does not include property held in trust or property that otherwise passes outside the estate. This is one of the big reasons why in California estate planning to avoid probate is so very common and important if you want to keep costs low.

    In the majority of states without such statutes you will find it much more common to have attorneys paid by the hour or flat fee for most probate work, though some litigation on behalf of the estate may be done on contingent fee.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: What Level of Services and Fees Should I Expect from an Estate Attorney

    Quote Quoting infoneed
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    I'm looking for an attorney to help me with those duties and I'd like to know what range of services I could expect from him or her. Or is there even a range of services?
    The "range of services" can be anywhere from everything needed to administer the trust to anything less than that. For example, there are notices that will need to be sent. The attorney will advise you about those. The attorney can send them, or you can send them. This is something to discuss during your initial consultation or after you retain the attorney.


    Quote Quoting infoneed
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    I don't know if I should expect just a one hour consultation, prepare my questions as comprehensively as I can, take copious notes, and then off I go trying to do everything myself properly on my own; only returning for another hour of consultation if I think of new questions. Kind of like a pay-as-you go engagement.
    Very few attorneys are likely to be willing to agree to such a relationship.


    Quote Quoting infoneed
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    Or do I explain what I need done, and the attorney quotes me a fixed fee, takes it from there, handling all forms, court visits & filings, notifications, etc, and provide me progress updates along the way and assigns me action items for things I need to do.
    First of all, if your mother had a trust and a pour-over will, she likely did that so that probate could be avoided, so hopefully no court visits or filings will be needed. Second, the way to approach this is not for you to figure out what needs to be done and then explain that to the lawyer. You tell the lawyer that you're the nominated executor in your mother's will and trustee of her trust, and you need assistance handling everything. The lawyer will then ask you questions (not the other way around) and lay out a game plan for you. You might find a lawyer willing to do it on a flat fee basis, or you might have to pay the hourly rate. Any estimates based on information known to this far would be pointless.

    Quote Quoting PayrolGuy
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    Generally, an attorney for an estate will be paid a percentage based on the value of the estate.
    That's if the estate is being probated. If the OP's mother properly set up her estate plan to avoid probate, the schedules in PC 10800, et seq. won't apply.

    Quote Quoting infoneed
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    I always thought an estate was everything that isn't in a trust. . . .

    My mom's estate will have nothing in it (if I'm defining the term correctly) as
    everything she has is already in her trust. Is the fee schedule applied to the
    combination of the estate and the trust? It seems as though that's what you're
    saying.
    Colloquially, one's "estate" are assets that are to be distributed upon death. One's probate estate consists of all assets not held in one of the following ways: (1) joint tenancy with right of survivorship; (2) in a trust; or (3) in an account that designates a pay-on-death beneficiary. Additionally, your mother has a "trust estate." If my recollection of your many other threads is correct, your mother's most significant assets are her home, which is titled to the trust, and some financial accounts. I don't recall if you've said how those accounts are titled or whether they had POD beneficiaries. Your mother certainly had personal effects, and those would be part of her probate estate, but those things probably have relatively little financial value such that probate shouldn't be necessary.

    Quote Quoting Taxing Matters
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    Sadly in California that's true because California is one of the very few states that sets probate attorney and personal representative fee rates by statute as a percentage of the estate. See California Probate Code section 10810. This means that both the attorney and the personal representative are entitled to that fee. Moreover, it is based on the gross estate, not reduced by the debts of the estate. And even worse, this only covers ordinary work done, not all the work that is done. So if you want to know one of the key reasons why California probate is considered so expensive, this statute is one of the big reasons.
    I disagree with a lot of this. On a million dollar estate, the statutory fee schedules entitle the personal representative and attorney to a mere 2.3% (each) of the estate's value (i.e., $23k). It's hardly as lucrative as you make it seem, although I agree that it can present problems with estates that are heavily indebted.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: What Level of Services and Fees Should I Expect from an Estate Attorney

    Quote Quoting pg1067
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    I disagree with a lot of this. On a million dollar estate, the statutory fee schedules entitle the personal representative and attorney to a mere 2.3% (each) of the estate's value (i.e., $23k). It's hardly as lucrative as you make it seem, although I agree that it can present problems with estates that are heavily indebted.
    I guess seeing as you are a CA attorney you might feel compelled to defend the CA fee schedule. But the fee schedule only applies to "ordinary work" done; the attorney can seek even more for anything that is not ordinary. And the size of the estate does not tell you how much work the attorney will do. I've done work on estates well in excess of $1 million that didn't amount to anything more than an estate of $50,000 — a few routine filings with the court and a couple of tax returns as there were no disputes among beneficiaries or creditors to sort out or any particularly nettlesome legal issues. In my state the work is done by the hour, so my fee for that might be a couple thousand dollars. But if we had the CA fee schedule, that estate would suddenly make me much, much more in fees. So for me, the CA statutory fee schedule would, on balance, be a great windfall. It would not be so great for my clients.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: What Level of Services and Fees Should I Expect from an Estate Attorney

    Quote Quoting Taxing Matters
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    I guess seeing as you are a CA attorney you might feel compelled to defend the CA fee schedule. But the fee schedule only applies to "ordinary work" done; the attorney can seek even more for anything that is not ordinary. And the size of the estate does not tell you how much work the attorney will do. I've done work on estates well in excess of $1 million that didn't amount to anything more than an estate of $50,000 a few routine filings with the court and a couple of tax returns as there were no disputes among beneficiaries or creditors to sort out or any particularly nettlesome legal issues. In my state the work is done by the hour, so my fee for that might be a couple thousand dollars. But if we had the CA fee schedule, that estate would suddenly make me much, much more in fees. So for me, the CA statutory fee schedule would, on balance, be a great windfall. It would not be so great for my clients.
    Even with the minimum amount of work required for probating a decedent's estate in California, the attorney will rarely, if ever, realize a windfall (and it's fairly for an attorney to seek fees in excess of the schedule). Perhaps the process is more streamlined in those jurisdictions where you have practiced.

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