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Manhattan Surrogate’s Court Fees

Manhattan Surrogate’s Court Fees are stated in the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, § 2402. Here is the list of fees by procedure, for easy reference:

7. The fee schedule for subdivision 1 through 7 inclusive is as follows:

Value of Estate or Subject Matter Fee Rate
Less than $ 10,000 $ 45.00
10,000 but under 20,000 75.00
20,000 but under 50,000 215.00
50,000 but under 100,000 280.00
100,000 but under 250,000 420.00
250,000 but under 500,000 625.00
500,000 and over 1,250.00

8. (a) For filing a petition to commence the following proceedings, the fee shall be as indicated:

SCPA Fee Rate
607 To punish respondent for contempt $ 30.00
711 Suspend, modify, revoke letters or remove a fiduciary other than a custodian or guardian 75.00
711 Suspend, modify, revoke letters or remove a custodian or guardian 30.00
715 Application of fiduciary to resign 30.00
717 Suspend powers-fiduciary in war 0.00
1401 Compel production of will 20.00
1420 Construction of will 75.00
1421 Determination of right of election 75.00
1502 Appointment of trustee 45.00
1508 Release against state 50.00
1703 Appointment of guardian 20.00
2003 Open safe deposit box 20.00
2102 Proceedings against a fiduciary 20.00
2103 Proceedings by fiduciary to discover property 75.00
2107 Advice and directions 75.00
2108 Continue business 45.00
2114 Review corporate trustee compensation 10.00
2205 Petition to compel fiduciary to account 30.00
EPTL 7-4.6 Appointment of successor custodian 20.00

(b) For filing a petition to commence a proceeding for the appointment of a trustee of a lifetime trust or for the appointment of a conservator, the fee shall be the same as that which is payable in the supreme court pursuant to section eight thousand eighteen of the civil practice law and rules.

9. For filing:

(i) a demand for trial by jury in any proceeding, SCPA 502 $ 150.00
(ii) objections to the probate of a will SCPA 1410 150.00
(iii) a note of issue in any proceeding 45.00
(iv) objection or answer in any action or proceeding other than probate 75.00
(v) a will for safekeeping pursuant to section 2507 of this act except that the court in any county may reduce or dispense with such fee 45.00
(vi) a bond, including any additional bond:
less than $ 10,000 20.00$
10,000 and over 30.00

10.

For furnishing a transcript of a decree $20.00

11.

For a certificate of letters evidencing that the appointment of a fiduciary is still in full force and effect: $ 6.00

12.

(a) For making and certifying or comparing and certifying a copy of a will or any paper on file or recorded in his office: $ 6.00 pg.
(b) Authenticating the same, additional: $ 20.00

13.

For searching and certifying to any record
for which search is made:
$ 30.00 for under 25 years$ 90.00 for over 25 years

14.

(a) For producing papers, documents, books of record on
file in his office under a subpoena duces tecum,
for use within the county where the office
of the court is situated:
$ 30.00
(b) for use in any other county, such fee to be paid for
each day or part thereof that the messenger is
detailed from the office and to be in addition
to mileage fee and the necessary expenses of the
messenger. The clerk
of the court shall not be
required to make any collection or return of
the money so paid for expenses:
$ .30

15. For recording:

(a) any instrument, decree or other
paper which is required by law
to be recorded:
$ 8.00 per pg. or part $ 16.00 minimum
(b) for filing an authenticated copy of
a foreign will:
$ 8.00 per pg. $ 64.00 minimum
(c) for taxing bill of costs: 15.00

The table above contains Manhattan Surrogate’s Court fees. If you need representation in a Manhattan estate proceeding, contact the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at (212) 233-1233.

Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court Fees

Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court Fees are stated in the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, § 2402. Here is the list of fees by procedure, for easy reference:

7. The fee schedule for subdivision 1 through 7 inclusive is as follows:

Value of Estate or Subject Matter Fee Rate
Less than $ 10,000 $ 45.00
10,000 but under 20,000 75.00
20,000 but under 50,000 215.00
50,000 but under 100,000 280.00
100,000 but under 250,000 420.00
250,000 but under 500,000 625.00
500,000 and over 1,250.00

8. (a) For filing a petition to commence the following proceedings, the fee shall be as indicated:

SCPA Fee Rate
607 To punish respondent for contempt $ 30.00
711 Suspend, modify, revoke letters or remove a fiduciary other than a custodian or guardian 75.00
711 Suspend, modify, revoke letters or remove a custodian or guardian 30.00
715 Application of fiduciary to resign 30.00
717 Suspend powers-fiduciary in war 0.00
1401 Compel production of will 20.00
1420 Construction of will 75.00
1421 Determination of right of election 75.00
1502 Appointment of trustee 45.00
1508 Release against state 50.00
1703 Appointment of guardian 20.00
2003 Open safe deposit box 20.00
2102 Proceedings against a fiduciary 20.00
2103 Proceedings by fiduciary to discover property 75.00
2107 Advice and directions 75.00
2108 Continue business 45.00
2114 Review corporate trustee compensation 10.00
2205 Petition to compel fiduciary to account 30.00
EPTL 7-4.6 Appointment of successor custodian 20.00

(b) For filing a petition to commence a proceeding for the appointment of a trustee of a lifetime trust or for the appointment of a conservator, the fee shall be the same as that which is payable in the supreme court pursuant to section eight thousand eighteen of the civil practice law and rules.

9. For filing:

(i) a demand for trial by jury in any proceeding, SCPA 502 $ 150.00
(ii) objections to the probate of a will SCPA 1410 150.00
(iii) a note of issue in any proceeding 45.00
(iv) objection or answer in any action or proceeding other than probate 75.00
(v) a will for safekeeping pursuant to section 2507 of this act except that the court in any county may reduce or dispense with such fee 45.00
(vi) a bond, including any additional bond:
less than $ 10,000 20.00$
10,000 and over 30.00

10.

For furnishing a transcript of a decree $20.00

11.

For a certificate of letters evidencing that the appointment of a fiduciary is still in full force and effect: $ 6.00

12.

(a) For making and certifying or comparing and certifying a copy of a will or any paper on file or recorded in his office: $ 6.00 pg.
(b) Authenticating the same, additional: $ 20.00

13.

For searching and certifying to any record
for which search is made:
$ 30.00 for under 25 years$ 90.00 for over 25 years

14.

(a) For producing papers, documents, books of record on
file in his office under a subpoena duces tecum,
for use within the county where the office
of the court is situated:
$ 30.00
(b) for use in any other county, such fee to be paid for
each day or part thereof that the messenger is
detailed from the office and to be in addition
to mileage fee and the necessary expenses of the
messenger. The clerk
of the court shall not be
required to make any collection or return of
the money so paid for expenses:
$ .30

15. For recording:

(a) any instrument, decree or other
paper which is required by law
to be recorded:
$ 8.00 per pg. or part $ 16.00 minimum
(b) for filing an authenticated copy of
a foreign will:
$ 8.00 per pg. $ 64.00 minimum
(c) for taxing bill of costs: 15.00

The table above contains Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court fees. If you need representation in a Brooklyn estate proceeding, contact the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at (212) 233-1233.

Queens Surrogate Court Fees

Queens Surrogate’s Court Fees are stated in the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, § 2402. Here is the list of fees by procedure, for easy reference:

7. The fee schedule for subdivision 1 through 7 inclusive is as follows:

Value of Estate or Subject Matter Fee Rate
Less than $ 10,000 $ 45.00
10,000 but under 20,000 75.00
20,000 but under 50,000 215.00
50,000 but under 100,000 280.00
100,000 but under 250,000 420.00
250,000 but under 500,000 625.00
500,000 and over 1,250.00

8. (a) For filing a petition to commence the following proceedings, the fee shall be as indicated:

SCPA Fee Rate
607 To punish respondent for contempt $ 30.00
711 Suspend, modify, revoke letters or remove a fiduciary other than a custodian or guardian 75.00
711 Suspend, modify, revoke letters or remove a custodian or guardian 30.00
715 Application of fiduciary to resign 30.00
717 Suspend powers-fiduciary in war 0.00
1401 Compel production of will 20.00
1420 Construction of will 75.00
1421 Determination of right of election 75.00
1502 Appointment of trustee 45.00
1508 Release against state 50.00
1703 Appointment of guardian 20.00
2003 Open safe deposit box 20.00
2102 Proceedings against a fiduciary 20.00
2103 Proceedings by fiduciary to discover property 75.00
2107 Advice and directions 75.00
2108 Continue business 45.00
2114 Review corporate trustee compensation 10.00
2205 Petition to compel fiduciary to account 30.00
EPTL 7-4.6 Appointment of successor custodian 20.00

(b) For filing a petition to commence a proceeding for the appointment of a trustee of a lifetime trust or for the appointment of a conservator, the fee shall be the same as that which is payable in the supreme court pursuant to section eight thousand eighteen of the civil practice law and rules.

9. For filing:

(i) a demand for trial by jury in any proceeding, SCPA 502 $ 150.00
(ii) objections to the probate of a will SCPA 1410 150.00
(iii) a note of issue in any proceeding 45.00
(iv) objection or answer in any action or proceeding other than probate 75.00
(v) a will for safekeeping pursuant to section 2507 of this act except that the court in any county may reduce or dispense with such fee 45.00
(vi) a bond, including any additional bond:
less than $ 10,000 20.00$
10,000 and over 30.00

10.

For furnishing a transcript of a decree $20.00

11.

For a certificate of letters evidencing that the appointment of a fiduciary is still in full force and effect: $ 6.00

12.

(a) For making and certifying or comparing and certifying a copy of a will or any paper on file or recorded in his office: $ 6.00 pg.
(b) Authenticating the same, additional: $ 20.00

13.

For searching and certifying to any record
for which search is made:
$ 30.00 for under 25 years$ 90.00 for over 25 years

14.

(a) For producing papers, documents, books of record on
file in his office under a subpoena duces tecum,
for use within the county where the office
of the court is situated:
$ 30.00
(b) for use in any other county, such fee to be paid for
each day or part thereof that the messenger is
detailed from the office and to be in addition
to mileage fee and the necessary expenses of the
messenger. The clerk
of the court shall not be
required to make any collection or return of
the money so paid for expenses:
$ .30

15. For recording:

(a) any instrument, decree or other
paper which is required by law
to be recorded:
$ 8.00 per pg. or part $ 16.00 minimum
(b) for filing an authenticated copy of
a foreign will:
$ 8.00 per pg. $ 64.00 minimum
(c) for taxing bill of costs: 15.00

The table above contains Queens Surrogate’s Court fees. If you need representation in a Queens estate proceeding, contact the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at (212) 233-1233.

New York Probate Lawyer Fees

How much are New York probate lawyer fees?

  • For most cases, probate lawyers in New York charge by the hour, at an average of $400 per hour.
  • For a few types of smaller cases, probate lawyers can charge a flat fee starting at about $3,000.
  • For cases that have a potentially promising outcome but risk not having a recovery at all, probate lawyers can charge on a contingency basis based on the value of the estate recovery. The rate is usually 33%.

Are you looking for something like a New York probate lawyer fee schedule? Are you wondering how much does a letter of testamentary cost? We will explain how New York probate lawyer fees are calculated and what factors are involved in setting the fees. This information is based on our own experience and on asking other probate lawyers in the New York City area.

Most Cases – Probate Lawyer Fees Are $400 per hour

For most cases, probate lawyer fees are calculated by the hour. The average rate is about $400 an hour, and it varies by the lawyer’s expertise and reputation. Lawyers typically require a retainer deposit of about $4,000 to get started. New York probate lawyer fees based on the hour

To better understand probate lawyer fees, here’s a billable hours calculator. You can plug in the number of hours and minutes and the hourly rate and see how much the total bill would be for that billing period.

 

You can see how the total goes up or down as you plug in different values for the hourly rate.

Some Cases – Probate Lawyer Fees are about 5% of the estate

For some straight-forward cases, probate lawyer fees are calculated as a flat fees of about 5% of the estate. new york probate lawyer fees based on percentage

Few Cases – Probate Lawyer Fees are 1/3 of the estate, nothing if no recovery

For a very limited number of cases, an probate lawyer can agree to work on a contingency fee, of typically contingency 1/3 of the recovery, where the lawyer gets nothing if there is no recovery. new york probate lawyer fees based on contingency

Let us start off with examples of fees set by actual New York estate law firms…

We’ve conducted a survey among New York probate lawyers to see how their firms set their fees. Without listing their names, the table below is a summary of what we’ve found:

Law Firm Rate Quoted Over the Phone
Law Firm 1: $400/hr
Law Firm 2: Flat fee depending on the size of the estate
Law Firm 3: 5% of the estate
Law Firm 4: $10,000, + $450 per hour if the estate is contested
Law Firm 5: Depending on the size of the estate

We’ve had a potential client recently call and he told us that he’s done extensive shopping around, calling different attorneys for his potential will contest case. We asked him what the prices are, and he said that the hourly fees range from $350 to $500 per hour, and the retainer agreements range from $1,000 to $4,000. Seems a little low to us, and he might have been trying to low-ball our firm, as his quote is about lower than the answers we got when we conducted our own survey.

As you can see, there’s quite a range of amounts and arrangements. But it basically comes down to hourly or flat fee, or a combination thereof.

The Three Main Types of Fee Arrangements: Hourly, Flat and Contingency

We’ll explain

  • what the basic types of probate lawyer fee arrangements are
  • what type of case they apply to
  • what type of client fits what type of fee arrangement
  • what are the advantages to a client and
  • what are the advantages to the lawyer

Hourly Fees – Average $400 Per Hour

The hourly fee is the most straightforward way of calculating lawyers’ fees. The lawyer sets the fee they charge for each hour of work, and then bills you for the work performed based on how much time it took.

The hourly fee can be applied to any kind of case. Fees in the New York market start at around $300 per hour and can go up to around $850 per hour.

Here is a sample of our own itemized legal billing statement:

Date Time Spent Task
7/3/17 0:08 Review PA’s petition for temporary administration and client’s application for preliminary letters
7/3/17 0:25 review and organize notes, review documents in the case, strategy
7/3/17 0:07 review client’s application in guardianship case to not have ITF accounts disbursed to the PA
7/3/17 0:06 read letter from bank lawyer re. distribution of ITF accounts
7/3/17 0:05 skim files emailed by client
7/3/17 0:25 Probate lawyer fees for reviewing client’s deposition transcript
7/4/17 0:03 Read client’s email, edit and re-send consent to change lawyer
7/8/17 0:06 Review consent to change lawyer received from client, draft authorization to appear, email to client for notarization
7/10/17 0:04 Probate lawyer fees for emailing opposing counsel re. consent to change lawyer
7/10/17 1:14 Conference with client re. tomorrow’s court conference, case strategy

 

The advantage of the billable hour structure to the client is that the probate lawyer fee is limited by the number of hours a lawyer works. Clients save money because an hourly probate lawyer fee is typically less than what a lawyer would charge as a flat fee. To make clients more comfortable and take away some of the perceived unpredictability, we sometimes estimate what the cost will be per month. For example, we say that this case will cost you about $1,000 per month for the next six months.

Most estate cases can be handled by a solo practitioner, which results in more savings. When you hire a solo practitioner, they are limited to how much they can bill. There are only so many hours in a day, and we juggle a lot of cases. A client would have to be more careful with a bigger firm. It’s easier for a big firm to charge more money on an hourly billed case. They can charge for associates, paralegals and partners. Sometimes simultaneously if they’re all in one meeting on the same case.

Flat Fee: a Set Amount

A flat fee is a way to bill for a straightforward probate or administration case. A fee can be set as a percentage of a case or as a set amount, which is the same idea. For example, 5% or $30,000.

Flat fees are only available when there are no missing or unknown heirs to find and notify and no other complicating issues.

Flat fees for an probate lawyer are out of the question for an estate case involving litigation or will contest. It’s up to the client how far they take a case. Paying a flat fee can give the client a cost incentive to “get their money’s worth.” The client may want to push the case as far as they can, which can result in an excessive amount of work for the lawyer. Ultimately, a flat fee in a contested litigation case can result in disappointment to the client. It’s often better to settle while you have the chance as opposed to pushing the case to an unpredictable trial.

Flat fee agreements are rare. As a safety measure, most flat fee retainer agreements include a caveat that if there’s litigation not listed in the agreement, then the lawyer adds an hourly fee. There can also be an option to add to the flat fee after a certain amount of hours. Or, switch to an hourly fee and convert the flat fee to a retainer deposit. A lawyer should explain to the client exactly what is and what is not included in the flat fee.

Based on our understanding of the professional conduct rules, it’s possible that taking a flat fee upfront could present an issue for the lawyer when the fee is of any significant size. Instead, it’s probably better to take the fee at the end of the case or gradually as the lawyer is performing the work. A lawyer charging a flat fee should be mindful of non-refundable retainer rules.

For an probate lawyer charging a flat fee, it’s important to keep a log of the time they put in and the tasks they perform. This log should be similar to one the lawyer would have maintained if the billing structure would have been hourly. This way, the law firm can demonstrate work performed and justify their fee. Keeping a long also minimizes a chance of a fee reduction if there is ever a billing issue with the client or the estate’s beneficiaries.

Contingency Fee: Percentage of Recovery, $0 if No Win

A contingency fee is deducted from the recovery the lawyer gets for the client. The amount the contingency fee is usually 1/3 of the recovery, plus expenses such as expert fees and court reporters. If the case does not win, the lawyer does not get anything.

A contingency fee in an estate case is accepted by the probate lawyer who believes they can get a substantial amount of money for their clients. If the case settles for a small amount, a lawyer still gets a share of the small amount, but they would probably end up losing money.

Experienced probate lawyers will only accept a contingency case if

  • the estate is large
  • has cash or liquid assets
  • the lawyer feels that they can resolve the estate quickly and easily

Lawyers prefer a client who is reasonable and agreeable, for two reasons. First, we want a client who is pleasant to deal with, and more importantly, agreeable to a fair settlement. Second, if a person behaves unpleasantly, then the reason for the decedent leaving them out of the will is self-evident and a reasonable settlement will be hard to get.

A good contingency case with a high chance of success usually involves a client who is a relative who is challenging a bequest to a neighbor, friend or care provider. A client who is challenging a sibling is also a right candidate for a contingency, as siblings often relent and go easy on each other.

Read more about contingency fee arrangements

Summary of Fee Arrangements

Hourly Fee: About $400 per hour, a retainer of about $4,000 is typically required
Flat Fee: About 5% of the estate
Contingency Fee: 1/3 of what the lawyer wins

Comparing the Fee Arrangements

Hourly vs. Contingency: The advantages of an hourly case over a contingency case is that the client keeps the entire share of the estate that they are entitled to, paying only hourly probate lawyer fees. Let’s say you’re fighting for a $1 million share of an estate. If you win, it would have been worth it to pay probate lawyer fees in the amount of $50K, as opposed to giving the lawyer 1/3 of the $1 million. But if you lose and get nothing from the case, you would have been better off with a contingency, paying a probate lawyer fee of $0, as opposed to paying them $50K. If you didn’t have $50K in the first place, the contingency arrangement might have been your only option anyway.

Hourly vs. Flat Fee: An hourly case will typically be more cost-effective than a flat fee that is more than $15K. A lawyer who knows what they’re doing is not going to charge a very small (i.e. $5k) contingency fee and accept the chance that something will go south and they will need to perform more work. At a minimum, the lawyer will have a clause in the retainer agreement that any extra work will be charged by the hour, which is not a real flat fee.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Client

Type of Fee Advantages to Client Disadvantages to Client
Hourly Probate Lawyer Fees You know how much you’re paying for each hour of lawyers’ work. You get a minute-by-minute statement of how much work is done. Even though most lawyers are conservative in their billing practices, many clients still have a perception that they have no control of the amount of time and money being spent on their case.
Flat Probate Lawyer Fee You know exactly how much you are paying. Not offered for contested cases. Uncontested cases may be cheaper if you pay by the hour.
Contingency Probate Lawyer Fee If you lose, you don’t pay anything. If you do win big, then it would have been much cheaper to pay by the hour.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Lawyer

Type of Fee Advantages to Lawyer Disadvantages to Lawyer
Hourly Probate Lawyer Fee Lawyer gets paid for their time. In a big case, a contingency win would have netted a bigger fee.
Flat Probate Lawyer Fee Lawyer is guaranteed a set amount. Lawyer can be in a situation where they would have to perform more work than anticipated
Contingency Probate Lawyer Fee If the client wins big, lawyer gets to share in the reward If the case loses, lawyer gets nothing for their time.

Hybrid Probate Lawyer Fees

Although less common, hybrid fee arrangements are possible if contracted in writing between the lawyer and the client. The most common on is “flat fee, but hourly if more work is required,” a similar one is “flat fee, but switches to retainer and hourly if more work is required.” There’s also “reduced hourly with a contingency” or “reduced hourly with a reduced flat.” I suppose there could be “flat with a contingency.”

Make sure the lawyer follows the professional rules when it comes to charging a flat fee or a hybrid fee involving a flat portion and is careful to comply with non-refundable retainer rules.

When is a Retainer Required

Probate lawyers don’t require an upfront payment when the client is an executor, administrator or trustee, because they are about to get access to the estate or trust funds. Because the executor does not have access to the estate’s funds at the initial stage of the proceeding, it would not be reasonable to ask them for a retainer. Lawyers do not want to create a “Catch-22” situation in which the executor can’t get the money to get to the money. When representing an executor, lawyers bill the estate for work performed and get paid by the executor from the estate.

Lawyers only give the executor this break if the estate has cash or liquid assets. In an estate that cannot pay the lawyer even after the executor is appointed, then a lawyer requires a retainer upfront.

Most lawyers require a retainer deposit when the client is suing the estate. A lawyer would require a retainer for a will contest or to allege that assets are missing from the estate. By law, the beneficiary does not have access to the estate’s funds until the executor distributes the funds. Executors know this and tend to hold out distributions until they are either forced by the court or the beneficiaries sign a release. For this reason, lawyers require a retainer before they take on estate litigation on behalf of a beneficiary. Unless it’s a contingency fee arrangement, in which case the lawyer is risking being paid nothing if the case does not win.

Excessive Fees are Not Allowed, But Large Probate Lawyer Fees are Allowed

New York Rules of Professional Conduct preclude lawyers from charging fees that are excessive and define what “excessive” means. Also, you can read our post about excessive lawyers fees.

Probate lawyers are not allowed to rip the clients off. However, that does not mean that lawyers cannot charge significant fees.

In an hourly case, a lawyer can end up charging a significant total fee as long as

  • the fee is justified by the amount of work performed
  • the lawyer keeps a record of the hours spent and
  • timely provides the client with an itemized statement.

In a contingency case, a lawyer can charge a substantial fee as long as the case was reasonably difficult to win.

New York has a complicated body of statutes and cases dealing with lawyers’ fees. The basics can be found in the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Capped Fees: the Fee Arrangement that Never Happens with Probate lawyers

Law firms don’t accept “capped fee” arrangements, where they work for an hourly fee but the total amount billed is capped at a certain number. For example, you can bill by the hour, but the total cannot be more than $30,000. A capped fee would give a client a strong incentive to push a case further than it needs to be pushed and to decline a reasonable settlement, to their detriment. It also gives a law firm an incentive to limit their work, which is not always great for the client. A capped fee arrangement skewers the incentive system and is detrimental to both lawyer and client.

Paying Less Can Mean Paying More

Let’s say you hire an probate lawyer who charges $250 per hour but has not done a case like yours in the past. This lawyer can easily spend ten hours just figuring out what to do in the case. A lawyer who charges a little more already knows how to do and can do in an hour. Not to mention, a lawyer with more experience may have more knowledge of what can win this type of case. So paying less hourly for a lawyer is often not a bargain.

Experience and Reputation Matter

When looking at a fee, what a lawyer can do for a client is even more important than the numbers game of the probate lawyer’s fee. For a client who wants a good result, the experience and skills of a top probate lawyer are well worth a premium in lawyer fees.

It is also essential that the client is comfortable that the lawyer is on the same wavelength as them, that they can establish excellent communication and rapport. The lawyer-client relationship can be just as important as the lawyers’ expertise, as the lawyer is ultimately a messenger for the client’s version of the truth in the case.

As you can see, the total price of a lawyer varies from law firm to law firm and case to case. It is often impossible to predict what the total fee would be. Comparing your case to the way lawyers usually bill for similar cases can help you estimate the amount of money you’ll spend on an probate lawyer.

We hope that this summary has been helpful. If you’d like to get a quote of our fees on New York probate lawyer fees on a particular case, you’re welcome to give us a call at (212) 233-1233.

New York Probate Lawyer Fee Schedule

Although there is no mandatory New York probate lawyer fee schedule, here is what a probate lawyer in New York would typically charge:

  • For most cases, probate lawyers in New York charge by the hour, at an average of $400 per hour.
  • For a few types of smaller cases, probate lawyers can charge a flat fee starting at about $3,000.
  • For cases that have a potentially promising outcome but risk not having a recovery at all, a probate lawyer can charge on a contingency basis based on the value of the estate recovery. The rate is usually 33%.

Are you looking for something like a New York probate lawyer fee schedule? Are you wondering how much does a letter of testamentary cost? We will explain how New York probate lawyer fees are calculated and what factors are involved in setting the fees. This information is based on our own experience and on asking other estate lawyers in the New York City area.

Most Cases – $400 per hour

For most cases, probate lawyer fees are calculated by the hour. The average rate is about $400 an hour, and it varies by the lawyer’s expertise and reputation. Lawyers typically require a retainer deposit of about $4,000 to get started. new york probate lawyer fee schedule based on hour

To better understand a possible probate lawyer fee schedule, here’s a billable hours calculator. You can plug in the number of hours and minutes and the hourly rate and see how much the total bill would be for that billing period.

 

You can see how the total goes up or down as you plug in different values for the hourly rate.

Some Cases – about 5% of the estate

For some straight-forward cases, probate lawyer fees are calculated as a flat fee of about 5% of the estate. new york probate lawyer fee schedule based on percentage

Few Cases – 1/3 of the estate, nothing if no recovery

For a very limited number of cases, a probate lawyer can agree to work on a contingency fee, of typically contingency 1/3 of the recovery, where the lawyer gets nothing if there is no recovery. new york probate lawyer fee schedule based on contingency

Let us start off with examples of fees set by actual New York estate law firms…

We’ve conducted a survey among New York estate lawyers to see how their firms set their fees. Without listing their names, the table below is a sample schedule of what we’ve found:

Law Firm Rate Quoted Over the Phone
Law Firm 1: $400/hr
Law Firm 2: Flat fee depending on the size of the estate
Law Firm 3: 5% of the estate
Law Firm 4: $10,000, + $450 per hour if the estate is contested
Law Firm 5: Depending on the size of the estate

We’ve had a potential client recently call and he told us that he’s done extensive shopping around, calling different attorneys for his potential will contest case. We asked him what the prices are, and he said that the hourly fees range from $350 to $500 per hour, and the retainer agreements range from $1,000 to $4,000. Seems a little low to us, and he might have been trying to low-ball our firm, as his quote is about lower than the answers we got when we conducted our own survey.

As you can see, there’s quite a range of amounts and arrangements. But it basically comes down to hourly or flat fee, or a combination thereof, as opposed to a probate lawyer fee schedule.

The Three Main Types of Fee Arrangements: Hourly, Flat and Contingency

We’ll explain

  • what the basic types of probate lawyer fee arrangements are
  • what type of case they apply to
  • what type of client fits what type of fee arrangement
  • what are the advantages to a client and
  • what are the advantages to the lawyer

Hourly Fees – Average $400 Per Hour

The hourly fee is the most straightforward way of calculating lawyers’ fees. The lawyer sets the fee they charge for each hour of work and then bills you for the work performed based on how much time it took.

The hourly fee can be applied to any kind of case. Fees in the New York market start according to each probate lawyer’s fee schedule, at around $300 per hour and can go up to around $850 per hour.

Here is a sample of our own itemized legal billing statement:

Date Time Spent Task
7/3/17 0:08 Review PA’s petition for temporary administration and client’s application for preliminary letters
7/3/17 0:25 review and organize notes, review documents in the case, strategy
7/3/17 0:07 review client’s application in guardianship case to not have ITF accounts disbursed to the PA
7/3/17 0:06 read the letter from the bank lawyer re. distribution of ITF accounts
7/3/17 0:05 skim files emailed by client
7/3/17 0:25 Probate lawyer fees for reviewing client’s deposition transcript
7/4/17 0:03 Read client’s email, edit and re-send consent to change lawyer
7/8/17 0:06 Review consent to change lawyer received from the client, draft authorization to appear, email to client for notarization. Read the New York probate lawyer fee schedule.
7/10/17 0:04 Probate lawyer fees for emailing opposing counsel re. consent to change lawyer
7/10/17 1:14 Conference with client re. tomorrow’s court conference, case strategy

 

The advantage of the billable hour structure to the client is that the probate lawyer fee is limited by the number of hours a lawyer works. Clients save money because an hourly probate lawyer fee is typically less than what a lawyer would charge as a flat fee. To make clients more comfortable and take away some of the perceived unpredictability, we sometimes estimate what the cost will be per month. For example, we say that this case will cost you about $1,000 per month for the next six months.

Most estate cases can be handled by a solo practitioner, which results in more savings. When you hire a solo practitioner, they are limited to how much they can bill. There are only so many hours in a day, and we juggle a lot of cases. A client would have to be more careful with a bigger firm. It’s easier for a big firm to charge more money on an hourly billed case. They can charge for associates, paralegals and partners. Sometimes simultaneously in a probate lawyer fee schedule, if they’re all in one meeting on the same case.

Flat Fee: a Set Amount

A flat fee is a way to bill for a straightforward probate or administration case. A fee can be set as a percentage of a case or as a set amount, which is the same idea. For example, 5% or $30,000.

Flat fees are only available when there are no missing or unknown heirs to find and notify and no other complicating issues.

Flat fees for a New York probate lawyer are out of the question for an estate case involving litigation or will contest. It’s up to the client how far they take a case. Paying a flat fee can give the client a cost incentive to “get their money’s worth.” The client may want to push the case as far as they can, which can result in an excessive amount of work for the lawyer. Ultimately, a flat fee in a contested litigation case can result in disappointment to the client. It’s often better to settle while you have the chance as opposed to pushing the case to an unpredictable trial.

Flat fee schedules are rare. As a safety measure, most flat fee retainer agreements include a caveat that if there’s litigation not listed in the agreement, then the lawyer adds an hourly fee. There can also be an option to add to the flat fee after a certain amount of hours. Or, switch to an hourly fee and convert the flat fee to a retainer deposit. A lawyer should explain to the client exactly what is and what is not included in the flat fee.

Based on our understanding of the professional conduct rules, it’s possible that taking a flat fee upfront or creating a probate lawyer flat fee schedule could present an issue for the lawyer when the fee is of any significant size. Instead, it’s probably better to take the fee at the end of the case or gradually as the lawyer is performing the work. A lawyer charging a flat fee should be mindful of non-refundable retainer rules.

For a probate lawyer charging a flat fee, it’s important to keep a log of the time they put in and the tasks they perform. This log should be similar to one the lawyer would have maintained if the billing structure would have been hourly. This way, the probate lawyer can demonstrate work performed and justify their fee. Keeping a long also minimizes a chance of a fee reduction if there is ever a billing issue with the client or the estate’s beneficiaries.

Contingency Fee: Percentage of Recovery, $0 if No Win

A contingency fee is deducted from the recovery the lawyer gets for the client. The amount the contingency fee is usually 1/3 of the recovery, plus expenses such as expert fees and court reporters. If the case does not win, the lawyer does not get anything.

A contingency fee in an estate case is accepted by the probate lawyer who believes they can get a substantial amount of money for their clients. If the case settles for a small amount, a lawyer still gets a share of the small amount, but they would probably end up losing money.

Experienced estate lawyers will only accept a contingency case if

  • the estate is large
  • has cash or liquid assets
  • the lawyer feels that they can resolve the estate quickly and easily

Lawyers prefer a client who is reasonable and agreeable, for two reasons. First, we want a client who is pleasant to deal with, and more importantly, agreeable to a fair settlement. Second, if a person behaves unpleasantly, then the reason for the decedent leaving them out of the will is self-evident and a reasonable settlement will be hard to get.

A good contingency case with a high chance of success usually involves a client who is a relative who is challenging a bequest to a neighbor, friend or care provider. A client who is challenging a sibling is also a right candidate for a contingency, as siblings often relent and go easy on each other.

Read more about contingency fee schedules

Summary of Fee Schedules

Hourly Fee: About $400 per hour, a retainer of about $4,000 is typically required
Flat Fee: About 5% of the estate
Contingency Fee: 1/3 of what the lawyer wins

Comparing the Fee Schedules

Hourly vs. Contingency: The advantage of an hourly case over a contingency case is that the client keeps the entire share of the estate that they are entitled to, paying only hourly probate lawyer fees. Let’s say you’re fighting for a $1 million share of an estate. If you win, it would have been worth it to pay probate lawyer fees in the amount of $50K, as opposed to giving the lawyer 1/3 of the $1 million. But if you lose and get nothing from the case, you would have been better off with a contingency, paying a probate lawyer fee of $0, as opposed to paying them $50K. If you didn’t have $50K in the first place, the contingency arrangement might have been your only option anyway.

Hourly vs. Flat Fee: An hourly case will typically be more cost-effective than a flat fee that is more than $15K. A lawyer who knows what they’re doing is not going to charge a very small (i.e. $5k) contingency fee and accept the chance that something will go south and they will need to perform more work. At a minimum, the lawyer will have a clause in the retainer agreement that any extra work will be charged by the hour, which is not a real flat fee.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Client

Type of Fee Advantages to Client Disadvantages to Client
Hourly Probate Lawyer Fees You know how much you’re paying for each hour of lawyers’ work. You get a minute-by-minute statement of how much work is done. Even though most lawyers are conservative in their billing practices, many clients still have a perception that they have no control over the amount of time and money being spent on their case.
Flat Probate Lawyer Fee You know exactly how much you are paying. Not offered for contested cases. Uncontested cases may be cheaper if you pay by the hour.
Contingency Probate Lawyer Fee If you lose, you don’t pay anything. If you do win big, then it would have been much cheaper to pay by the hour.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Lawyer

Type of Fee Advantages to Lawyer Disadvantages to Lawyer
Hourly Probate Lawyer Fee Lawyer gets paid for their time. In a big case, a contingency win would have netted a bigger fee.
Flat Probate Lawyer Fee The lawyer is guaranteed a set amount. The lawyer can be in a situation where they would have to perform more work than anticipated
Contingency Probate Lawyer Fee If the client wins big, the lawyer gets to share in the reward If the case loses, the lawyer gets nothing for their time.

Hybrid Probate Lawyer Fees

Although less common, hybrid fee arrangements are possible if contracted in writing between the lawyer and the client. The most common on is “flat fee, but hourly if more work is required,” a similar one is “flat fee, but switches to a retainer and hourly if more work is required.” There’s also “reduced hourly with a contingency” or “reduced hourly with a reduced flat.” I suppose there could be “flat with a contingency.”

Make sure the lawyer follows the professional rules when it comes to charging a flat fee or a hybrid fee involving a flat portion and is careful to comply with non-refundable retainer rules.

When is a Retainer Required

Probate Lawyers don’t require an upfront payment when the client is an executor, administrator or trustee, because they are about to get access to the estate or trust funds. Because the executor does not have access to the estate’s funds at the initial stage of the proceeding, it would not be reasonable to ask them for a retainer. Lawyers do not want to create a “Catch-22” situation in which the executor can’t get the money to get to the money. When representing an executor, lawyers bill the estate for work performed and get paid by the executor from the estate.

Lawyers only give the executor this break if the estate has cash or liquid assets. In an estate that cannot pay the lawyer even after the executor is appointed, then a lawyer requires a retainer upfront.

Most lawyers require a retainer deposit when the client is suing the estate. A lawyer would require a retainer for a will contest or to allege that assets are missing from the estate. By law, the beneficiary does not have access to the estate’s funds until the executor distributes the funds. Executors know this and tend to hold out distributions until they are either forced by the court or the beneficiaries sign a release. For this reason, lawyers require a retainer before they take on estate litigation on behalf of a beneficiary. Unless it’s a contingency fee arrangement, in which case the lawyer is risking being paid nothing if the case does not win.

Excessive Fees are Not Allowed, But Large Probate Lawyer Fees are Allowed

New York Rules of Professional Conduct preclude lawyers from charging fees that are excessive and define what “excessive” means. Also, you can read our post about excessive lawyers fees.

Probate lawyers are not allowed to rip the clients off. However, that does not mean that lawyers cannot charge significant fees.

In an hourly case, a lawyer can end up charging a significant total fee as long as

  • the fee is justified by the amount of work performed
  • the lawyer keeps a record of the hours spent and
  • timely provides the client with an itemized statement.

In a contingency case, a lawyer can charge a substantial fee as long as the case was reasonably difficult to win.

New York has a complicated body of statutes and cases dealing with lawyers’ fees. The basics can be found in the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Capped Fees: the Fee Schedule that Never Happens with Estate Lawyers

Law firms don’t accept “capped fee” arrangements, where they work for an hourly fee but the total amount billed is capped at a certain number. For example, you can bill by the hour, but the total cannot be more than $30,000. A capped fee would give a client a strong incentive to push a case further than it needs to be pushed and to decline a reasonable settlement, to their detriment. It also gives a law firm an incentive to limit their work, which is not always great for the client. A capped fee arrangement skewers the incentive system and is detrimental to both the lawyer and the client.

Paying Less Can Mean Paying More

Let’s say you hire a probate lawyer who charges $250 per hour but has not done a case like yours in the past. This lawyer can easily spend ten hours just figuring out what to do in the case. A lawyer who charges a little more already knows how to do and can do in an hour. Not to mention, a lawyer with more experience may have more knowledge of what can win this type of case. So paying less hourly for a lawyer is often not a bargain.

Experience and Reputation Matter

When looking at a possible lawyer fee schedule, what a lawyer can do for a client is even more important than the numbers game of the estate lawyer’s fee. For a client who wants a good result, the experience and skills of a top estate lawyer are well worth a premium in lawyer fees.

It is also essential that the client is comfortable that the lawyer is on the same wavelength as them, that they can establish excellent communication and rapport. The lawyer-client relationship can be just as important as the lawyers’ expertise, as the lawyer is ultimately a messenger for the client’s version of the truth in the case.

As you can see, the total price of a lawyer varies from law firm to law firm and case to case. It is often impossible to predict what the total fee would be. Comparing your case to the way lawyers usually bill for similar cases can help you estimate the amount of money you’ll spend on a probate lawyer.

We hope that this summary has been helpful. If you’d like to get our fee schedule, you’re welcome to give us a call at (212) 233-1233.

Attorney Billable Hours Calculator

Attorney Billable Hours Calculator

Plug in the number of hours and minutes and the hourly rate and see how much the total bill would be for that billing period.

You can see how the total goes up or down as you plug in different values for the hourly rate. This is the attorney billable hours calculator.

Probate Lawyer Fees in New York

How much are New York probate lawyer fees?

  • For most cases, estate attorneys in New York charge by the hour, ranging from $350 to $600 per hour.
  • For a few types of smaller cases, estate attorneys can charge a flat fee starting at about $3,000.
  • For cases that have a potentially promising outcome but risk not having a recovery at all, estate attorneys can charge on a contingency basis based on the value of the estate recovery. The rate is usually 33%.

Are you looking for something like a New York probate attorney fee schedule? Are you wondering how much does a letter of testamentary cost? We will explain how New York probate lawyer fees are calculated and what factors are involved in setting the fees. This information is based on our own experience and on asking other estate lawyers in the New York City area.

Most Cases – Around $400 per hour

For most cases, probate lawyer fees are calculated by the hour. The average rate is about $400 an hour, and it varies by the attorney’s expertise and reputation. Attorneys typically require a retainer deposit of about $4,000 to get started. probate lawyer fees based on the hour

To better understand probate lawyer fees, here’s a billable hours calculator. You can plug in the number of hours and minutes and the hourly rate and see how much the total bill would be for that billing period.

 

You can see how the total goes up or down as you plug in different values for the hourly rate.

Some Cases – about 5% of the estate

For some straight-forward cases, probate lawyer fees are calculated as a flat fee of about 5% of the estate. probate lawyer fees based on percentage

Few Cases – 1/3 of the estate, nothing if no recovery

For a very limited number of cases, an estate attorney can agree to work on a contingency fee, of typically contingency 1/3 of the recovery, where the attorney gets nothing if there is no recovery. probate lawyer fees based on contingency

Let us start off with examples of fees set by actual New York estate law firms…

We’ve conducted a survey among New York estate lawyers to see how their firms set their fees. Without listing their names, the table below is a summary of what we’ve found:

Law Firm Rate Quoted Over the Phone
Law Firm 1: $400/hr
Law Firm 2: Flat fee depending on the size of the estate
Law Firm 3: 5% of the estate
Law Firm 4: $10,000, + $450 per hour if the estate is contested
Law Firm 5: Depending on the size of the estate

We’ve had a potential client recently call and he told us that he’s done extensive shopping around, calling different attorneys for his potential will contest case. We asked him what the prices are, and he said that the hourly fees range from $350 to $500 per hour, and the retainer agreements range from $1,000 to $4,000. Seems a little low to us, and he might have been trying to low-ball our firm, as his quote is about lower than the answers we got when we conducted our own survey.

As you can see, there’s quite a range of amounts and arrangements. But it basically comes down to hourly or flat fee, or a combination thereof.

The Three Main Types of Fee Arrangements: Hourly, Flat and Contingency

We’ll explain

  • what the basic types of probate attorney fee arrangements are
  • what type of case they apply to
  • what type of client fits what type of fee arrangement
  • what are the advantages to a client and
  • what are the advantages to the attorney

Hourly Fees – Average $400 Per Hour

probate lawyer fees based on the hour The hourly fee is the most straightforward way of calculating attorneys’ fees. The lawyer sets the fee they charge for each hour of work, and then bills you for the work performed based on how much time it took.

The hourly fee can be applied to any kind of case. Fees in the New York market start at around $300 per hour and can go up to around $850 per hour.

Here is a sample of our own itemized legal billing statement:

Date Time Spent Task
7/3/17 0:08 Review PA’s petition for temporary administration and client’s application for preliminary letters
7/3/17 0:25 review and organize notes, review documents in the case, strategy
7/3/17 0:07 review client’s application in guardianship case to not have ITF accounts disbursed to the PA
7/3/17 0:06 read the letter from the bank attorney re. distribution of ITF accounts
7/3/17 0:05 skim files emailed by client
7/3/17 0:25 Probate lawyer fees for reviewing client’s deposition transcript
7/4/17 0:03 Read client’s email, edit and re-send consent to change attorney
7/8/17 0:06 Review consent to change attorney received from the client, draft authorization to appear, email to client for notarization
7/10/17 0:04 Probate attorney fees for emailing opposing counsel re. consent to change attorney
7/10/17 1:14 Conference with client re. tomorrow’s court conference, case strategy

 

The advantage of the billable hour structure to the client is that the probate lawyer fee is limited by the number of hours an attorney works. Clients save money because an hourly probate attorney fee is typically less than what an attorney would charge as a flat fee. To make clients more comfortable and take away some of the perceived unpredictability, we sometimes estimate what the cost will be per month. For example, we say that this case will cost you about $1,000 per month for the next six months.

Most estate cases can be handled by a solo practitioner, which results in more savings. When you hire a solo practitioner, they are limited to how much they can bill. There are only so many hours in a day, and we juggle a lot of cases. A client would have to be more careful with a bigger firm. It’s easier for a big firm to charge more money on an hourly billed case. They can charge for associates, paralegals and partners. Sometimes simultaneously if they’re all in one meeting on the same case.

Flat Fee: a Set Amount

probate lawyer fees based on a percentage A flat fee is a way to bill for a straightforward probate or administration case. A fee can be set as a percentage of a case or as a set amount, which is the same idea. For example, 5% or $30,000.

Flat fees are only available when there are no missing or unknown heirs to find and notify and no other complicating issues.

Flat fees for an estate lawyer are out of the question for an estate case involving litigation or will contest. It’s up to the client how far they take a case. Paying a flat fee can give the client a cost incentive to “get their money’s worth.” The client may want to push the case as far as they can, which can result in an excessive amount of work for the attorney. Ultimately, a flat fee in a contested litigation case can result in disappointment to the client. It’s often better to settle while you have the chance as opposed to pushing the case to an unpredictable trial.

Flat fee agreements are rare. As a safety measure, most flat fee retainer agreements include a caveat that if there’s litigation not listed in the agreement, then the attorney adds an hourly fee. There can also be an option to add to the flat fee after a certain amount of hours. Or, switch to an hourly fee and convert the flat fee to a retainer deposit. An attorney should explain to the client exactly what is and what is not included in the flat fee.

Based on our understanding of the professional conduct rules, it’s possible that taking a flat fee upfront could present an issue for the attorney when the fee is of any significant size. Instead, it’s probably better to take the fee at the end of the case or gradually as the attorney is performing the work. An attorney charging a flat fee should be mindful of non-refundable retainer rules.

For an estate attorney charging a flat fee, it’s important to keep a log of the time they put in and the tasks they perform. This log should be similar to one the attorney would have maintained if the billing structure would have been hourly. This way, the law firm can demonstrate work performed and justify their fee. Keeping a long also minimizes a chance of a fee reduction if there is ever a billing issue with the client or the estate’s beneficiaries.

Contingency Fee: Percentage of Recovery, $0 if No Win

probate lawyer fees based on contingency A contingency fee is deducted from the recovery the attorney gets for the client. The amount the contingency fee is usually 1/3 of the recovery, plus expenses such as expert fees and court reporters. If the case does not win, the attorney does not get anything.

A contingency fee in an estate case is accepted by the probate attorney who believes they can get a substantial amount of money for their clients. If the case settles for a small amount, an attorney still gets a share of the small amount, but they would probably end up losing money.

Experienced estate attorneys will only accept a contingency case if

  • the estate is large
  • has cash or liquid assets
  • the attorney feels that they can resolve the estate quickly and easily

Attorneys prefer a client who is reasonable and agreeable, for two reasons. First, we want a client who is pleasant to deal with, and more importantly, agreeable to a fair settlement. Second, if a person behaves unpleasantly, then the reason for the decedent leaving them out of the will is self-evident and a reasonable settlement will be hard to get.

A good contingency case with a high chance of success usually involves a client who is a relative who is challenging a bequest to a neighbor, friend or care provider. A client who is challenging a sibling is also a right candidate for a contingency, as siblings often relent and go easy on each other.

Read more about contingency fee arrangements

Summary of Fee Arrangements

Hourly Fee: About $400 per hour, a retainer of about $4,000 is typically required
Flat Fee: About 5% of the estate
Contingency Fee: 1/3 of what the attorney wins

Comparing the Fee Arrangements

Hourly vs. Contingency: The advantage of an hourly case over a contingency case is that the client keeps the entire share of the estate that they are entitled to, paying only hourly probate lawyer fees. Let’s say you’re fighting for a $1 million share of an estate. If you win, it would have been worth it to pay probate lawyer fees in the amount of $50K, as opposed to giving the attorney 1/3 of the $1 million. But if you lose and get nothing from the case, you would have been better off with a contingency, paying a probate lawyer fee of $0, as opposed to paying them $50K. If you didn’t have $50K in the first place, the contingency arrangement might have been your only option anyway.

Hourly vs. Flat Fee: An hourly case will typically be more cost-effective than a flat fee that is more than $15K. A lawyer who knows what they’re doing is not going to charge a very small (i.e. $5k) contingency fee and accept the chance that something will go south and they will need to perform more work. At a minimum, the attorney will have a clause in the retainer agreement that any extra work will be charged by the hour, which is not a real flat fee.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Client

Type of Fee Advantages to Client Disadvantages to Client
Hourly Probate Lawyer Fees You know how much you’re paying for each hour of attorneys’ work. You get a minute-by-minute statement of how much work is done. Even though most lawyers are conservative in their billing practices, many clients still have a perception that they have no control of the amount of time and money being spent on their case.
Flat Probate Lawyer Fee You know exactly how much you are paying. Not offered for contested cases. Uncontested cases may be cheaper if you pay by the hour.
Contingency Probate Lawyer Fee If you lose, you don’t pay anything. If you do win big, then it would have been much cheaper to pay by the hour.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Attorney

Type of Fee Advantages to Attorney Disadvantages to Attorney
Hourly Probate Attorney Fee Attorney gets paid for their time. In a big case, a contingency win would have netted a bigger fee.
Flat Probate Attorney Fee The attorney is guaranteed a set amount. The attorney can be in a situation where they would have to perform more work than anticipated
Contingency Probate Attorney Fee If the client wins big, the attorney gets to share in the reward If the case loses, the attorney gets nothing for their time.

Hybrid Probate Lawyer Fees

Although less common, hybrid fee arrangements are possible if contracted in writing between the attorney and the client. The most common on is “flat fee, but hourly if more work is required,” a similar one is “flat fee, but switches to retainer and hourly if more work is required.” There’s also “reduced hourly with a contingency” or “reduced hourly with a reduced flat.” I suppose there could be “flat with a contingency.”

Make sure the attorney follows the professional rules when it comes to charging a flat fee or a hybrid fee involving a flat portion and is careful to comply with non-refundable retainer rules.

When is a Retainer Required

Probate Attorneys don’t require an upfront payment when the client is an executor, administrator or trustee, because they are about to get access to the estate or trust funds.  Because the executor does not have access to the estate’s funds at the initial stage of the proceeding, it would not be reasonable to ask them for a retainer. Attorneys do not want to create a “Catch-22” situation in which the executor can’t get the money to get to the money. When representing an executor, attorneys bill the estate for work performed and get paid by the executor from the estate.

Attorneys only give the executor this break if the estate has cash or liquid assets. In an estate that cannot pay the attorney even after the executor is appointed, then an attorney requires a retainer upfront.

Most attorneys require a retainer deposit when the client is suing the estate. An attorney would require a retainer for a will contest or to allege that assets are missing from the estate. By law, the beneficiary does not have access to the estate’s funds until the executor distributes the funds. Executors know this and tend to hold out distributions until they are either forced by the court or the beneficiaries sign a release. For this reason, attorneys require a retainer before they take on estate litigation on behalf of a beneficiary. Unless it’s a contingency fee arrangement, in which case the attorney is risking being paid nothing if the case does not win.

Excessive Fees are Not Allowed, But Large Probate Lawyer Fees are Allowed

New York Rules of Professional Conduct preclude attorneys from charging fees that are excessive and define what “excessive” means. Also, you can read our post about excessive attorneys’ fees.

Probate attorneys are not allowed to rip the clients off. However, that does not mean that attorneys cannot charge significant fees.

In an hourly case, an attorney can end up charging a significant total fee as long as

  • the fee is justified by the amount of work performed
  • the attorney keeps a record of the hours spent and
  • timely provides the client with an itemized statement.

In a contingency case, an attorney can charge a substantial fee as long as the case was reasonably difficult to win.

New York has a complicated body of statutes and cases dealing with attorneys’ fees. The basics can be found in the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Capped Fees: the Fee Arrangement that Never Happens with Estate Lawyers

Law firms don’t accept “capped fee” arrangements, where they work for an hourly fee but the total amount billed is capped at a certain number. For example, you can bill by the hour, but the total cannot be more than $30,000. A capped fee would give a client a strong incentive to push a case further than it needs to be pushed and to decline a reasonable settlement, to their detriment. It also gives a law firm an incentive to limit their work, which is not always great for the client. A capped fee arrangement skewers the incentive system and is detrimental to both attorney and client.

Paying Less Can Mean Paying More

Let’s say you hire an estate attorney who charges $250 per hour but has not done a case like yours in the past. This attorney can easily spend ten hours just figuring out what to do in the case. An attorney who charges a little more already knows how to do and can do in an hour. Not to mention, an attorney with more experience may have more knowledge of what can win this type of case. So paying less hourly for an attorney is often not a bargain.

Experience and Reputation Matter

When looking at a fee, what an attorney can do for a client is even more important than the numbers game of the estate attorney’s fee. For a client who wants a good result, the experience and skills of a top estate attorney are well worth a premium in attorney fees.

It is also essential that the client is comfortable that the attorney is on the same wavelength as them, that they can establish excellent communication and rapport. The attorney-client relationship can be just as important as the attorneys’ expertise, as the attorney is ultimately a messenger for the client’s version of the truth in the case.

As you can see, the total price of an attorney varies from law firm to law firm and case to case. It is often impossible to predict what the total fee would be. Comparing your case to the way attorneys usually bill for similar cases can help you estimate the amount of money you’ll spend on an estate attorney.

We hope that this summary has been helpful. If you’d like to get a quote of our fees on a particular case, you’re welcome to give us a call at (212) 233-1233.

Can an Executor Pay their Attorney With Estate Funds?

It is common for an executor to hire a New York estate attorney to assist in probating an estate.  Usually, handling an estate takes work, plus an executor may not know how to deal with every issue that could arise during probate.  Many beneficiaries may wonder how attorney’s fees that are paid for the purpose of probating the estate are handled and who has to pay those fees.  It is important for a beneficiary to know how attorney’s fees are paid out when probating an estate, especially if the beneficiary is contesting a will.

Who Has to Pay Attorney Fees Related to Probating an Estate?

In general, executor’s legal fees are paid for out of the estate funds.  Additionally, in New York, there is no set amount of attorney’s fees, but rather those fees need to be reasonable.  The payment of attorney fees has to take place before gifts are given out to the beneficiaries as with other creditors such as funeral homes or credit cards.  Legal fees are considered to be one of the most important debts to be paid out of estate assets.

Does the Executor or the Estate Pay Attorneys’ Fees to Defend a Will Challenge?

If a beneficiary contests the will, the default is that the attorney who defends the estate’s status quo is being paid by estate funds. The executor can apply to the court to have attorney’s fees for work that is done on the executor’s behalf to be paid for by the estate out of the funds that are meant to go to that beneficiary (this is because of the famous New York court ruling in the Matter of Hyde).  This is so that beneficiaries who did not contest the will still receive their entire amount and not have their share diminished when they did not contest the will.  This is not the case, however, if all beneficiaries benefit from the will contest.  In such a case, the legal fees would be paid out of the inheritance of all beneficiaries who are positively affected by the will contest.  In general, the Surrogate’s Court expects each party, besides the executor, to pay his or her own bills, rather than having those bills paid for by the estate.

The only time that an executor’s legal fees would not be paid out of the estate is if the executor had acted in an egregious way, such as engaging in fraud or self-dealing, rather on behalf of the estate.  Again, this is something that is not the default way, and will need to be ordered by the court in order to be effective. Outside this situation, the court expects legal fees to be paid for from estate funds in a reasonable amount as there is strong public policy to have attorney’s fees be paid and for executor’s not to have to risk being individually liable for their legal fees as part of the job.  Legal fees are instead considered a cost of administering the estate, not a personal expense that will be expected of the executor to pay.

It is important when hiring an attorney that an executor hires a New York estate attorney who is familiar with what is considered a fair legal fee in New York and who can also handle everything from the administrative costs of probate, along with any potential litigation.

Call the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at (212) 233-1233, New York estate, guardianship, wills, trust, Medicaid and probate lawyer, and make an appointment to discuss.

Excessive Attorneys’ Fees In a New York Estate

In New York, a lawyer should not charge excessive fees. American Bar Association and New York Bar Association have rules and regulations against excessive attorneys’ fees, and so do New York Attorney Ethics Rules.

The Factors that Determine Reasonable Attorneys’ Fees

When determining whether legal fees in an estate may be considered excessive, here are some factors that should be considered:

• Amount of the fee in relation to the type of services rendered
• Type of fee arrangement, flat fee, contingency, hourly
• The time involved, hours, etc.
• Type of case and any special skills required to handle the case
• Future business relationships between the client and the lawyer
• Whether the client is informed in writing and consents to the arrangements
• The outcome and results of the case

Attorneys are required to explain the basis for their fee charge and expenses and communicate the information to the client so that the client clearly understands the fee arrangement. Typically, the attorney and client enter into a fee arrangement prior to the attorney rendering any services on behalf of the client. Some attorneys may ask for an upfront retainer agreement as well. Changes to fee arrangements should be discussed and communicated to clients immediately.

Finding a New York Estate Attorney and Initial Consultation

Getting a referral from a friend, family member or someone you trust is a good way to find an estate attorney that you may want to work with, you can also find attorney reviews and descriptions on the internet. Finding an attorney that you trust and that you are comfortable working with and who is knowledgeable with a proven record of handling cases similar to yours are factors to consider when making a final choice.

Before hiring an attorney, you should inquire at the initial consultation about the attorney’s fee arrangements. You can read our post about how New York estate attorneys set their fees. Make sure you ask the attorney questions before you sign any fee arrangement agreement so you clearly understand what services will be performed and how the fees are billed. You may also want to inquire if the attorney uses junior associate attorneys, paralegals, law clerks or legal secretaries to prepare work and a breakdown on their fee charges. Asking questions helps to prevent misunderstandings or surprises later on.

Estate Lawyer Dispute Resolution

In the event a fee dispute does occur between a client and a New York City Estate lawyer, the client may request arbitration or mediation as an alternative dispute resolution method through the New York State Unified Court System’s Attorney-Client Fee Dispute Resolution Program by calling 877-FEES-137 (877-333-7137) or visiting the court’s website. The court also has the jurisdiction to approve attorney’s fees and settle fee arrangement disputes.

If you wish to speak to a New York estate attorney, call the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin at (212) 233-1233.