In the aftermath of a loved one’s death, you face another challenge: administering the deceased person’s (decedent’s) estate, otherwise known as going through probate. Probate is the court-supervised process of settling the decedent’s debts and distributing the remaining assets to heirs or beneficiaries.
The probate process can be overwhelming, especially if the personal representative is a grieving family member who has never navigated the probate courts before. If the estate is large or contains complex assets, or there is a dispute between family members, probate becomes even more challenging. The help of an experienced Michigan probate attorney can make the probate process much easier. After all, an attorney is familiar with probate’s legal requirements and the process, having helped numerous families through the administration of the estate. Many families are also concerned about the cost of probate, especially legal fees. Understanding probate legal fees can help to put your mind at ease.
It is hard to tell you in a blog post just what your probate matter will cost. Especially with regard to legal fees, the answer depends on a number of factors, including:
It probably won’t surprise you that the larger and more complex an estate, the higher legal fees are likely to be. Some states allow an attorney to charge a percentage of the gross value of probate assets. Michigan does not. Most Michigan probate attorneys charge an hourly fee for their work on a probate case. The services of a probate attorney are considered to be a benefit to the estate. That means that they are generally payable from estate assets, not out of the personal representative’s pocket.
Just because an attorney bills an estate doesn’t mean the entire bill will be chargeable to the estate, however. In order to be chargeable to an estate, the fee must be reasonable (as measured against the rates of other similar attorneys in the area) and the services billed for must be necessary. What is considered a “reasonable” fee may be adjusted based on the attorney’s experience or reputation, the difficulty of the tasks involved in the probate matter, or the outcome achieved.
A word here about attorneys and their rates: experienced attorneys generally charge a somewhat higher rate than less experienced attorneys. As of this writing, attorney Suzy Fanning’s hourly rate is $350, which reflects her decades of experience concentrating exclusively in probate law, including complex and disputed cases. Probate and administration work done by our knowledgeable paralegal is charged at $180.
When we take on a probate or administration matter in our office, our focus is not on how much we can charge; it’s on how much we can help. We are always mindful that someone coming to our office with a probate case has lost someone close to them, and we want to make their life easier, not harder. We are experienced enough to know which tasks require an attorney’s hand, and which can be capably managed by a paralegal.
In our office, an experienced paralegal handles those straightforward tasks which do not require an attorney’s attention. That allows us to provide excellent service without charging our clients more than necessary, while also freeing up the attorney to address those matters which do require her knowledge.
We do not charge a retainer fee for probate matters, nor do we charge for an initial consultation. We want to give our clients all the time they need to discuss their situation without having to be concerned about cost or time.
In addition to attorney fees, there are other fees involved in probating a Michigan estate. There is a filing fee of $150 that accompanies an application to open a probate estate. If the petition to appoint a personal representative is not included with the application to open probate, there is a $20 fee to later petition to appoint a personal representative. Other filings typically carry a modest fee as well.
The most significant court fee you can expect to pay in a probate matter is the inventory fee. Michigan probate courts are required by law to collect an inventory fee as an expense of administration of decedents’ estates. The Michigan court system offers an inventory fee calculator to help personal representatives get a sense of what an estate can expect to pay in inventory fees. A probate estate valued at $100,000 carries an inventory fee of $363.00, for instance.
You may be tempted to work with the probate attorney who quotes you the lowest hourly rate, but exercise caution. A less-experienced attorney may do an acceptable job, especially with a smaller, uncomplicated probate matter. But it may also take a less-experienced attorney longer to perform a service than an experienced one. Since attorney fees are a function of both the attorney’s hourly rate and the time spent, you could end up paying even more for the services of an inexperienced attorney. If the probate estate is large or the case is complex, it’s even more worthwhile to opt for the services of an experienced probate attorney who can do the work properly the first time around, avoiding costly delays and errors.
An ethical probate attorney will want to help you keep probate costs manageable and predictable, including attorney fees. After gathering some information from you about your matter, your attorney should be able to advise you what to expect in the probate case and what services they will likely need to provide. Sometimes, an estate can be administered with a minimum of assistance from the attorney. A good attorney will neither charge you to perform services that are not needed, nor cut you adrift to manage the probate process without the proper support and assistance.
If you have questions about the costs of a Michigan probate matter, or how to manage those costs, we invite you to contact our law office to schedule a consultation.