Losing a loved one is sad and difficult.  It is worse when the person who died did not have a lawyer prepare legal documents ahead of time to keep their heirs out of probate court.  Probate is a court proceeding with one major purpose, to transfer title to property passing from the decedent to those persons named in the decedent’s will or entitled to take under the laws of intestacy (when someone dies without a will).  In a probate, an executor (if there is a will) or an administrator (is there is no will) is appointed by the court as a personal representative to collect the decedent’s assets, pay the debts and expenses, and then distribute the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries (those who have the legal right to inherit), all under the supervision of the court.  A probate can take between ten months to over a year.

Probate is a public, court supervised, process:

  1. File the will
  2. Take inventory/appraise property
  3. Pay legal debts and taxes
  4. Resolve disputes
  5. Prove the will valid and distribute what is left, if anything

Probate fees are based on a statutory fee schedule set out in California Probate Code §10800.


Estates of $100,000 or less 4% of the estate
Estates of $100,001-$200,000 $4,000 + 3% of the amount over $100,000
Estates of $200,001-$1,000,000 $7,000 + 2% of the amount over $200,000
Estates of $1,000,000-$10,000,000 $23,000 + 1% of the amount over $1,000,000
Estates of $10,000,000-$25,000,000 $113,000 plus ½% of the amount over $10,000,000
Estates over $25,000,000 “A reasonable amount”

If a house is valued at $500,000, even if it has no equity, probate fees would be $26,000.

Attorney fees will be $4,000 + $3,000 + $6,000 = $13,000

+ Executor fees for $13,000 (may be declined)

= $26,000. 

This is why people need living trusts to protect their loved one from the high costs of probate.

If an estate has less than $150,000 in probate assets, a less expensive affidavit process can be followed.