A letter of testamentary itself does not cost anything because it comes from the court. But if you are like most people, you would need to hire an estate lawyer to represent you in the probate process.
The document is actually called Letters of Testamentary, and it’s not a letter – it’s a court order. The confusion stems from the fact that Order used to be called Letter hundreds of years ago.
For a simple estate, it costs about $3,000 to get a letter of testamentary.
For an estate with routine complications, it costs about $8,000 to get a letter of testamentary in New York. These complications include
- Many parties to notify – having many parties to notify increases the cost of the letter of testamentary. This is especially true if the parties are in the state of New York, because in-state parties have to be notified by personal delivery through a process server. This problem can sometimes be avoided if the beneficiaries sign a waiver.
- Difficulties obtaining a bond – a bond is insurance against bad acts of the executor. If you don’t pass the credit check and are therefore unable to get the bond, then your attorney will have to serve as the administrator of the estate, which will increase the procedure involved and consequently will increase how much the letter of testamentary will cost.
- The need for an attorney to act as the administrator – if the attorney needs to act as the administrator, they would charge you extra for that service, increasing the cost of letter of testamentary.
- Difficulties with the death certificate – it can be difficult to obtain a death certificate or sometimes you would need to fix an error on the death certificate.
For an estate with major complications, it costs tens of thousands of dollars to get a letter of testamentary. An estate attorney will not offer a flat fee when complications are involved. Major complications include:
- A will contest. A will contest places the probate proceeding on a litigation track, and can take a lot of an estate attorney’s time and resources, thereby increasing how much the letter testamentary costs. A will contest will involve examination under oath of the attorney who drafted the will, the witnesses to the will, the person presenting the will for probate and anyone else with knowledge of the facts. It may involve obtaining and reviewing the decedent’s medical records in order to assess his capacity to make a will. A will contest can quickly turn into a long and involved lawsuit that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
- A search for parties with unknown address– it can take 6 months to complete all the required research and publication required to notify parties whose address is unknown. This extra requirement of the attorney’s time increases the cost of the letter of testamentary.
- A search for unknown parties– can take a year or more to resolve. The courts are very particular about notifying every party who is in any possible way affected by the will, even if they are not even mentioned in the will. Courts often require the executor to show that an effort was made to search for parties even if they are not likely to be found, such as when they are the decedent’s far removed relatives from overseas who may not have even existed.
The extra time and resource requirements of the estates with major complications increase the costs of the letter of testamentary.
When you enter into a retainer agreement with the estate attorney representing you in obtaining letters of testamentary, the costs will be a part of the retainer agreement, and it will specify that the costs will increase in the event of complications.
This article is meant to give you a bird’s eye view of the factors involved. If you would like to know how much does a letter of testamentary cost in your particular case, you can give me a call and I will be happy to give you an estimate. You can reach me at (212) 233-1233.