How Much Does It Cost to Handle An Estate?

A couple of weeks ago, I added a section to this very website talking about pricing for estate planning and probate services. Of course, in almost any legal proceeding, there are likely to be some additional costs in addition to what you’d pay an attorney, and those are important to know as well.

If you need to file with the court to probate an estate, the court will require the estate to pay various costs. The exact amount depends on the court. Applying for administration of an estate in Jackson County currently costs $190 if the deceased person had a will, and $155 if the deceased person didn’t have a will. In Platte County, the cost is $148, regardless of whether the deceased had a will or not. In Clay County, it’s $310 if the deceased person had a will, and $270 if he or she didn’t. Additionally, Clay County has additional costs once you file the inventory, but that doesn’t happen until a little later in the process.

You might have noticed that the Clay County fee is more, and there’s a reason for that: that fee includes the costs of “publication.” Publication is the placing of an ad in a newspaper in the county announcing that an estate has been opened. It puts creditors on notice of the estate and starts the time limit for any creditors to take action to collect debts against the estate. In Missouri, every estate worth more than $15,000 is required to publish, so it’s usually part of the process. The publication fee varies (it’s charged by the newspaper), but you can generally expect another $200-$250 or so for publication. Jackson and Platte Counties don’t add that fee in automatically.

If you’re in a different county, look up the court or the court clerk’s website–many of them have an online presence. If they do, they’ll often publish a list of the costs. Failing that, you can also call the court clerk.

Once the estate has paid the court costs, the estate may also need to pay for appraisals (definitely for real estate, and possibly for other estate items). If you’re planning on selling items at auction or bringing in someone to handle an estate sale, the estate will need to pay those folks as well. If you’re selling real estate in an estate, the estate will need to pay a real estate agent (assuming you use one) , and it might also pay for cleaning and otherwise staging a house for sale.

Then there’s the personal representative’s fees. Personal representatives can take a fee for administering the estate, although as a practical matter, family members or close friends serving as executors sometimes waive the fee. In Missouri, personal representative’s fees are calculated using the same scale I mentioned on my pricing page, calculated by the value of the estate.

Finally, there are attorney’s fees. Attorneys will usually charge one of two ways: either using a flat fee (like I generally do) or charging by the hour. Obviously, this varies by attorney, and it may even vary by case: some attorneys might want to charge hourly in cases where there may be complications, like will contests or fighting between beneficiaries.

Of course, costs can really escalate if you need probate in more than one state, or if there’s a fight about who gets what (or how much) from the estate. That can also increase the fees, as U.S. News and World Report points out.

So, in the end, I can’t give you a number–as they teach in law school, the answer is usually “it depends.” It depends on the jurisdiction where the estate is being probated, what’s in the estate, if you plan to hire anyone to help you sell property in the estate, whether the personal representative is going to take a fee, and how complicated the estate will be to settle.

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