Probate Attorney Fees in California

In most states, lawyers charge by the hour or collect a flat fee for probate work. Not so in California. It’s one of only a few states that let lawyers charge a “statutory fee”—an amount that is a percentage of the value of the assets that go through probate. The percentages are set out in state statutes. (Cal. Probate Code § § 10810, 10811.)

Here are the current rates:

  • 4% of the first $100,000 of the gross value of the probate estate
  • 3% of the next $100,000
  • 2% of the next $800,000
  • 1% of the next $9 million
  • .5% of the next $15 million
  • A reasonable amount (determined by the court) for any amounts higher than $25 million

In practice, this means that probate lawyers’ fees can be very high in relation to the amount of actual work done. Probate is usually a matter of filing papers; there’s no trial and there may be no court appearances at all. So, let’s say your probate estate contains a $600,000 house you own in your name alone, plus some bank and brokerage accounts and a car. The total value is $900,000. The attorney’s statutory fee would be $21,000—for very little paperwork.

But wait, what if there’s still $200,000 to pay on the mortgage, reducing your equity to $400,000? The attorney’s fee would still be $21,000—it’s based on the gross amount of the probate assets, not what you actually own.