Probate is the court-supervised process for wrapping up a person’s estate when they die. Usually if you have a trust you can avoid probate. If you don’t have a trust, or your assets aren’t actually in the trust, you may need a probate. Probate takes approximately 9-12 months and includes fees set by law. Proceedings are public, and someone (usually named in the Will) serves as the personal representative (executor). The personal representative is the person who shows up at court, gets bonded, pays the debts and eventually distributes the assets of the decedent, all subject to court oversight and approval.

It can be expensive. In California, both the attorney handling the probate and the personal representative (executor) are entitled to fees, 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

Fees are based on the gross value of the decedent’s estate. In other words, if you die with a house worth $500,000 (fair market value), even if you owed $400,000 on the property at death, the value of the estate would still be $500,000. So to give you an idea how that works out:

Estate Value Amount of Fee
$200,000 $7,000
$300,000 $9,000
$400,000 $11,000
$500,000 $13,000

So remember that in our example, we have a $500,000 estate. That means the attorney and the personal representative will be paid $13,000 each, before anything is distributed from the estate.

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