How much do lawyers typically charge for estate administration?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What is the usual percentage for a lawyer to ask for opening and closing an estate? Do lawyers in Alabama usually charge a percentage or a flat fee?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

The laws in just a handful of states"”including Arkansas, California Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Montana and Wyoming"”allow lawyers to charge a percentage of an estate's value as a fee.

Alabama is not in that handful. The law merely prohibits them from charging a "clearly excessive fee." Most Alabama lawyers charge either a flat fee for handing probate work"”or an hourly fee, which can range from about $150 to $300. If a paralegal or other legal assistant performs some of the work, the hourly fee should be less than the lawyer's charge.

If you hire a lawyer to administer a will in Alabama, just be sure you have a clear understanding"”in writing"”of how the fee will be charged and what it includes.

And don't be afraid to comparison shop or to cast about for ways to save money on legal fees if that is a concern for you. Many wise consumers find, for example, that they can keep legal fees to a minimum if they are willing to do some of the legwork or paperwork involved, such as collecting and filing documents"”and they find an attorney who is willing to work with them that way.

Some savvy consumers also find that they don't need to hire a lawyer to administer an estate"”especially if the plans for distributing the property are not complicated. The probate courts in many states make it easy for consumers to help themselves through the process by offering good self-help centers.

Unfortunately, this type of help is hard to come by in Alabama's 68 probate courts"”most of which parrot an identical warning: "The complexity of handling estates normally necessitate having an attorney since the Probate Judge cannot advise you of the law or provide you with forms."

Still, it may be worth your while to judge for yourself. Check with the probate court closest to where the deceased person lived and find out the specific local requirements for probating an estate. You can find it by searching "probate court" plus the name of the city or county.

You will then be in a better position to know whether you can handle the matter on your own, whether you can save legal fees by working with an attorney but doing some of the legwork or your own, or whether the fee that a particular attorney proposes to charge seems reasonable.