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What Factors Affect the Cost of Probate?

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  • Written By: Anna B. Smith
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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The primary factors that affect the cost of probate are any outstanding debts that exist against the estate and the price of hiring legal representation while the will is settled. Additional fees may be incurred during this process, such as appraisal fees and court costs. These costs are often paid out of the estate before it has been distributed to its inheritors.

Probate is the process of interpreting and enacting the last wishes of a deceased individual by a court of law. This may be accomplished through the reading of a will and the appointment of an executor of the estate to administer that will. During this time, heirs to the estate and family members may contest the will and lobby in court for portions of their inheritance which may be different than that which the executor sees fit to allot.

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Outstanding debt, whether in the form of unpaid bills or taxes, is the foremost factor that determines the length and cost of probate. Once an individual has passed away, all parts of their property must be accounted for, including any debts owed and taxes that have yet to be paid. Typically an accountant reviews the estate to determine if any outstanding taxes or debts exist, and whether any portions of the potential inheritance should be sold to cover those debts. If the deceased has kept detailed and accurate records of his or her bills, taxes and property deeds, then this process may take place both quickly and inexpensively. If outstanding debts exist, however, and extensive taxes remain to be paid, both accounting and legal fees may increase significantly.

An estate appraisal is often performed while all outstanding debts and taxes are being accounted for. This evaluation is generally performed by a court appointed probate referee, and is typically only necessary in cases where the property in question is particularly large and contains several valuable, non-cash items. These items can include art work, jewelry and furniture, among other things. The probate referee tends to charge a small percentage of the determined value of the appraised items, and may be paid out of the estate once it is distributed.

This type of legal proceeding is typically filed in a probate court. The cost of probate court fees may be determined by the national government or the regional jurisdiction in which the estate exists. In some countries, court filing fees are a percentage of the overall value of the estate. In other localities, these fees are a flat rate, regardless of the size of the property. Court costs are generally taken from the estate after it has been appraised and before it is distributed to the inheritors.

The cost of probate may also be greatly affected by legal fees. Inheritors of the estate may choose to obtain legal representation while the will is being settled. An attorney may choose to oversee all aspects of probate, including the appraisal, debt and tax accounting, and court filing. He can also represent his client's interests in court if the will becomes contested. Attorneys generally charge a percentage of the final value of the estate, often between 2% and 4%, though some may instead choose to contract with their clients for a flat hourly fee instead.

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