Who Pays Probate Attorney Fees?

Losing a loved one is hard, and it gets more complicated when settling their affairs. Whether they had a will or not, a probate attorney can make things easier by advising the estate’s executors on how to navigate things legally. 

Although it’s not a requirement in Washington, a probate attorney can help ease your mind during stressful times, but working with a probate attorney can also be confusing. Who pays probate attorney fees? What is the average cost of a probate attorney?

If you’re considering hiring a probate attorney in Washington, then you can feel a little relief because our probate process is straightforward compared to other states. It’s also good to know that the decedent’s probate estate value covers the costs. 

What Does a Probate Lawyer Cost?

When you’re trying to figure out who pays probate attorney fees, the first step is figuring out how much it costs. So what is the average cost of a probate attorney? That depends on the state you live in. Here in Washington, probate is fairly straightforward, and there are two simplified options when it comes to probate.

Affidavit Procedure

This option does not involve probate courts, attorneys, or related fees at all. This option can only be used if the decedent’s value of probate assets is $100,000 or less, and it excludes any property interest from their spouse or partner.

Settlement Without Court Intervention

Contrary to the name, this option does involve probate courts, so it would be wise to hire a probate attorney, which does include related costs. Settlement Without Court Intervention can be used under the following circumstances:

  • The estate has more than enough value to cover outstanding debts and taxes.
  • If a person named in the will, if there is one, petitions it with the court.
  • There is no will, but the spouse petitions the court because the estate is made up of community property and there are no children or grandchildren.
  • The personal representative is not a creditor, and the probate court decides that this option would be best for the beneficiaries and creditors. 

In some cases, the probate assets won’t qualify for either method listed above, which would then involve going through the entire probate process. 

Ways to Pay for Probate

When dealing with probate, do costs include attorney fees? How probate attorneys get paid? Fortunately, you don’t have to pay for legal representation out of pocket, and nothing is due to initiate the process. Washington’s probate statute instructs attorneys to charge reasonable prices when negotiating a flat or hourly fee.

You have three payment options, depending on the attorney you choose: 

Flat Fees

Flat fees are fixed charges for specific tasks. It’s not uncommon for probate attorneys in Washington to negotiate a flat fee for things like filing documents. It’s also a good way for them to charge for the entire process without having to track everything they do down to the minute. There are also flat fees that are required for court costs. 

Hourly Fees

Hourly fees are just what they sound like. This is an hourly rate an attorney can charge, but many states, including Washington, have statutes to ensure these fees are reasonable. Hourly fees are probably the most common method of payment for probate attorneys in Washington.

In Washington, probate attorney fees usually range between $150 to $300 per hour. If you have a straightforward probate, then you can expect to pay around $2500 for the entire process, which is usually over within 8 months to a year. However, there may be additional fees that need to be paid.

Percentage of Estate’s Value

Only a few states have statutes that base their fees off of this, and Washington state is not one of them. Depending on the estate’s value and the type of property included in it, these fees can get pretty steep. Still, states cannot legally require attorneys to accept these fees. In addition to that, executors and administrators can negotiate to switch to a flat rate or hourly fee.

Who Pays Probate Attorney Fees?

The estate is responsible for covering probate attorney fees. Nothing is paid upfront or owed by the executor or administrator. Unless you’re dealing with an Affidavit Procedure, you’ll almost certainly want legal representation when establishing the validity of a will. 

If a will goes into litigation, who pays attorney fees in a will contest? An executor, as well as their legal representation, can’t collect any fees until the court case is determined. If they win the case, the executor can then ask the court for litigation fees.

However, if you’re involved in a will litigation and you’re not the executor, you have to pay out-of-pocket. Legal fees can be awarded by the court if you win, but you might not get any reimbursement if you lose the contest. Until the case is resolved, you might not always know who pays probate attorney fees. 

In some cases, there is a 2 percent fee owed to the person who is managing the estate, but this is usually waived. In addition to that, the estate may have to cover estate taxes if the decedent owned property outside of Washington, but there is no estate tax here. There is also the federal estate tax, which is only applicable to estates worth millions of dollars or more.

Since the estate covers the probate attorney fees, the payment will not be due until the estate is finally settled. At that point, money from the estate will be distributed to taxes, bills, and heirs if anything is remaining.

How to Get Reimbursed for Legal Expenses After Probate

If you paid any probate expenses, then you are eligible to get reimbursed. This is uncommon since the estate covers probate expenses, but it does happen from time to time. When this happens, reimbursement is handled through courts, and it has to be requested by the executor or administrator.

A creditor claim must be filed by the appropriate parties to the estate and probate court to get compensation. These forms have to include detailed invoices and receipts to get adequately reimbursed. Paying for probate costs isn’t the only way to get reimbursement, either. Paying for a decedent’s debts out of pocket also qualifies for this.

Navigating reimbursement after probate and related issues can get complicated quickly. In most situations, you’re better served by contacting a probate attorney to provide assistance. They won’t require payment upfront and can help protect your interests through the entire probate process.

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