Probate is the legal process by which a deceased person’s assets are legally distributed to their heirs. This process can be long and confusing as well as costly depending on the size of the estate. Here is what you need to know about potential costs you may encounter during the probate process.

Court Costs

If your estate has to go through probate, you will need to pay a filing fee. In Maricopa County, the court filing fees typically range from $266-$320. There is also a cost for certified copies of certain documents, which is approximately $30 per document.  When you file a probate, you must publish notice of the probate in the newspaper. That publication typically costs between $40 and $60.

There are 2 different types of probate in Arizona–informal and formal.  Informal does not require a court hearing and is the most common form of probate.  A formal probate requires at least one court hearing.

Legal Fees

In addition to court costs, you may incur legal fees during the probate process if you hire an attorney to represent you. In Arizona, attorneys are required to charge a reasonable fee for services provided, rather than a percentage of the estate’s value.

Don’t be afraid to ask about fees when you meet with your attorney. When you speak with a probate attorney, be sure to ask how their law firm calculates reasonable fees for helping a family work through the probate process. Attorneys are very open about how much their services cost – we would much rather have this conversation before you hire us than have a client who feels blindsided or is unhappy down the road.

Generally, attorneys will either charge an hourly rate, which requires a deposit retainer up front, or a flat fee for a particular service. If your attorney charges on an hourly basis, he or she will provide you with billing statements, explaining how their time is spent.

A typical flat fee for an informal probate would be between $1000 and $1500.  If a probate is contested, or if you need a formal probate, the fees may well be substantially higher.

DIY Probate

In some situations, you may not need to work with a probate lawyer at all. Arizona probate law provides a small estate procedure for estates worth less than a certain threshold amount.

Specifically, if the estate primarily consists of personal property that is worth less than $75,000, or if it primarily consists of Arizona-based real property worth less than $100,000, you may qualify for Arizona’s small estate procedure.

Utilizing this process, the personal representative can prepare a simple affidavit, working with or without an attorney. However, if the estate has more debts, including funeral costs, than assets, you should consult with an attorney before working through this process.

Related article: Do I need a probate lawyer?

Planning Ahead to Avoid Probate

If you are able to plan ahead, there are a number of steps that can help you avoid probate altogether.

Related article: Four ways to avoid probate in Arizona

Creating a revocable living trust is an excellent way to avoid probate.  Naming beneficiaries on all of your assets–bank accounts, homes, cars, etc., will help your estate avoid probate.  Owning assets as joint tenants with right of survivorship allows that asset to avoid probate as well.

The key to avoiding probate is to plan ahead.  Although it is not fun thinking about your own death, it is even more unfun for your loved ones to untangle the mess you leave when you pass.  You would do anything for your loved ones while you are alive. Give them an incredible gift, upon your death, of an organized estate with all of the necessary legal documents in place.

This article does not provide legal advice. To discuss your estate plan, and how you can limit or avoid probate proceedings altogether, please contact me to set up a consultation today.