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Serving as a personal representative for a loved one’s estate can be a challenge. Many people who serve as administrators have no experience in that role, and don’t know what to expect. Fortunately, the personal representative isn’t expected to figure it out on his or her own. In fact, with limited exceptions, Florida law requires the personal representative to retain an attorney.
Working with an experienced probate lawyer takes a lot of the burden off of the personal representative and helps ensure that the process is handled correctly and estate assets are protected. But, some personal representatives and beneficiaries are concerned about the cost of hiring a probate lawyer–especially since most don’t know what to expert in terms of fees.
How fees are determined depends in part on the attorney you choose. There are three basic models: percentage-based, fixed-rate, and hourly. In some cases, billing will be based on a combination of these models. For instance, an attorney might charge a flat fee for basic probate administration assistance, but bill hourly for extra services if contested claims arise in the probate matter, a spouse commences an elective share proceeding, or other out-of-the-ordinary services are required.
Some law firms, such as those who always use the statutory fee model, may be able to quote you fees on the telephone when you make an initial inquiry. That may seem like a time saver, but it isn’t always good news. For some estates, the statutory billing model leads to much higher fees than you would pay on an hourly or fixed-price basis. An attorney who tailors billing to your specific needs will generally need to learn more about the estate before quoting a fee.
Florida law provides a table of compensation based on the size of the estate. The fee schedule isn’t mandatory, but is a safe way for law firms and personal representatives to set fees because the statute creates a presumption that these fees are reasonable. The statutory compensation is:
At values of $100,000 or more, the model switches from a flat rate to a combination of flat-rate and percentage-based billing, which becomes increasingly complicated as the value of the estate increases. The flat $3,000 for the first $100,000 still applies. Then, the statute provides for percentage-based compensation as follows:
Under this system, the probate fee for an estate valued at $6 million would be calculated as:
That’s a lot of math to arrive at a total fee of $95,000. And, that fee doesn’t necessarily include everything that might arise in the course of administering the estate. The statute allows for additional fees for representation in connection with will contests, audits, and other non-standard services.
But, the bigger problem is that a fee calculated according to the statute may not fairly represent the amount of work involved.
For illustration, let’s look at two smaller estates. Estate # 1 is valued at $150,000, and includes a wide range of types of property, a bunch of outstanding debt, and several beneficiaries receiving either differing percentages or specific bequests. The statutory fee associated with that estate would be $4,500.
Estate # 2 is valued at $400,000. There is only one beneficiary and no outstanding debt. A house with no mortgage makes up the bulk of the estate, and there is no property to be liquidated. The statutory fee associated with estate # 2 is $12,000.
This type of imbalance is the reason attorney Thomas Upchurch prefers a different billing model.
At Upchurch Law, we typically don’t handle probate cases on a statutory fee basis. Instead, we offer pricing models that help ensure that you only pay for the services you actually need. Our preferred billing model for probate cases is hourly. When we bill hourly, clients with simpler estates who don’t require as much time investment pay only for the hours they use, rather than paying higher fees based on the value of the estate.
In some circumstances, we also offer fixed-rate pricing for specific services. For example, we may offer a flat rate for a relatively small, straightforward estate, so you know exactly what to expect. With larger, more complex estates, it may be more difficult to assess in advance how much time and effort will be required.
Your consultation offers the opportunity for you to gather general information about the process and how an experienced probate attorney can assist you, and to ensure that you are comfortable with the attorney and feel you can rely on his knowledge and guidance.
During this consultation, Mr. Upchurch will also talk with you about fees and explain how pricing and billing would work in your specific situation.
To schedule your initial consultation call 386-320-6169 or fill out the quick contact form on this page.
Probate is the court supervised process in which a deceased person’s assets are transferred to the beneficiaries listed in his or her will.READ MORE