for New York state, is a flat fee of $50,000 the avergage rate for a probate lawer?

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for New York state, is a flat fee of $50,000 the avergage rate for a probate lawer?

I was quoted a flat rate of $50,000 lawyer fee for probate of a Will. Most assets were ITF or had beneficiary. Not too much for probate. Is this a fair rate or is it excessive? Thank you.

Asked on March 24, 2009 under Estate Planning, New York

Answers:

FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 13 years ago | Contributor

it is impossible to answer this question definitively without lots more information as to the facts and circumstances of the particular estate -- including

  • the decedent's family tree and heirs at law,
  • the nature and location and value of all the assets,
  • who and how qualified the executor is and how much he or she is prepared to do, 
  • whether there are likely to be any issues as to the testator's competence,
  • whether there is a likelihood of challenges to the Will,
  • whether an estranged spouse' will make a spousal election,
  • whether there are beneficiaries who are minors or missing,
  • whether there will be a real need for filing Estate tax returns (Federal, NY State and/or NYC),
  • whether there is material income in respect of a decedent,
  • how much, if any, work other professionals (such as appraisers and accountants) will do,
  • whether the executor is willing and able to do anything and/or will receive a fee,
  • whether the assests of the estate are simple to deal with or involve complicated issues themselves, such as oil or other royalty payments, claims involving litigation, patents, annuity interests, structured settlements, etc.

Absent at least a multi-million dollar estate and/or very complicated issues and/or major tax considerations, a legal fee of $50,000 sounds high. In fact although the tax work would be the same regardless of how the assets are held, charging a lawyer's fee of $50,000 just for handling a basic estate sounds outrageously high if most of the assets pass other than by Will (such as though POD or Totten trust accounts, or via living trusts, or via beneficiary designations) and thus large portions of the total assets don't have to go through the Surrogates Court processes.

The attorney's workload should be relatively modest if the estate is in good shape. It's hard to imagine that handling a straightforward estate should involve more than 20 hours work by a senior lawyer's work (even at $500 per hour that's only $10k) although there could be lots of work by clerical staff and one or more junior lawyers. Again, if the estate is complicated, and lots of issue are open, or the executor and beneficiaries demand lots of handholding, that takes time, and when it comes to legal fees, time is money.

NOTE - THE PERSON ANSWERING THIS QUESTION SERVED AS A MEMBER OF THE WILLS, TRUSTS AND SURROGATE'S COURT COMMITTEE OF A LEADING NEW YORK BAR ASSOCIATION. FOR MORE DETAILS CONTACT us via [email protected]

 


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