How much does probate cost in California? Probate lawyer Scott Rahn explains

How Much Does Probate Cost In California?

How much does probate cost in California? The price can range quite a bit. In the following, we will discuss three cost levels: Self-administered probate, assisted self-administered probate, and fully-assisted probate by retaining a probate lawyer.

How much does probate cost in California?

In almost every case, the costs of administering probate are paid or reimbursed by the estate. In effect, probate should cost you, the executor, nothing in California.

If you choose to self-administer probate, you will pay court fees and other costs from your pocket until you are appointed administrator, after which time you can marshal assets and pay expenses from an estate account you open with your bank. Then, when closing the estate, with court approval, you will reimburse yourself for all the upfront costs you may have paid.

If you choose assisted self-administration, you will pay paralegal costs upfront, out of pocket, typically $1500-5000.  Sometimes more. Then, once probate has been filed and you are appointed administrator, you can open an estate account and pay other fees/costs from the estate assets. When closing the estate, you will reimburse yourself for all the court-approved paralegal and other costs you paid.

If you choose to retain a probate attorney, you should pay no costs, although some probate attorneys do ask for an up-front cost retainer.  Either way, once you are appointed administrator, have marshaled the estate assets and opened the estate bank account, you can pay probate costs from the estate assets.  When closing the estate, any unpaid or unreimbursed costs and attorney’s fees will be paid, as ordered by the court, from the estate.  

How much does probate cost the estate in California?

Probate costs can vary, depending on whether you administer the estate all by yourself, with some paralegal assistance, or choose to work with a probate lawyer who will do everything for you.  Importantly, because ordinary probate attorney fees are set by statute in California, it should not matter whether you hire the most expense or cheapest attorney in town – the ordinary attorney’s fees will cost the estate the same.  Here’s a general overview:

  • Self-Administered: $1000 up front, and it usually takes 1-2 years to complete.

  • Assisted Self-Administration: $5000 up front, and it usually takes 1-2 years to complete.

  • Probate Lawyer: Varies upon value of the estate, but it should take under a year.

Wait a second, I get paid, too?

Yes, as the executor of the estate, you are entitled to the same statutory payment as the probate attorney. The total probate costs, paid by the decedent’s estate, will be your payment plus the probate attorney’s payment. Based on a $1,000,000 dollar estate value, the probate lawyer is entitled to a payment of $23,000. And you, as the executor, are entitled to the same payment of $23,000.  Both are paid from the decedent’s estate. Here’s a general overview of how much the estate will pay you and your probate attorney upon closing of the estate:

Which probate administration option is best for a large, high-value estate?

For estates valued from $150,001 to $499,999, it becomes a question of time: How much free time does the executor have to devote to the probate process over the course of 1-2 years? If they have time and an interest in self-administration, then the cost savings may be worth it.

For estates valued $499,000 to $999,999, the costs of a probate lawyer start to become a significantly smaller percentage of the total estate value (and distributions intended for the heirs and beneficiaries.) At this value, a probate attorney starts to become very appealing.

For estates valued $1,000,000 or more, the costs of a probate lawyer are starting to become “negligible”. Especially if the executor chooses to refuse their own payment — as the probate lawyer is managing the entire process. Plus, an experienced probate attorney will help lower risks by managing heirs and beneficiaries.

If it doesn’t cost me anything, why would I self-administer an estate?

Primarily, most people self-administer because the value of the estate is under $150,000. Secondarily, people self-administer because the estate administration is straightforward, there are not a lot of assets, no complicated assets (i.e. no houses or businesses), no anticipated disputes, no tax issues, etc., and they don’t intend to take the executor payment, and don’t want to pay a probate lawyer. They prefer to keep all the money in the estate for distribution and inheritance to heirs and beneficiaries.

What is assisted self-administration?

A paralegal service can help proposed executors fill out the probate petition form more accurately. Many parts of the probate administration process benefit from the experience of a probate professional.  Example, filing a Petition for Probate. The filing of the Petition for Probate kicks off the probate process in the decedent’s county probate court. This is a functionally simple process which can be complicated by filling out the petition form incorrectly–which results in probate notes. Clearing these probate notes can take additional weeks or months, due to extended court processes. A paralegal service can help proposed executors fill out the petition form more accurately, which may result in fewer probate notes — thereby saving time.

Which probate administration option is best for a small, low-value estate with no real property?

If the estate is valued at less than $150,000 and owns no real property, probate can be avoided in California, simply by filling out the small estate affidavit. This avoids the county probate court process. If this applies to you, download the form here.

Do I need a probate lawyer near me?

We recommend finding an experienced probate lawyer familiar with the county probate court in the county where the decedent lived. For example, if the decedent lived in Los Angeles, we recommend working with a probate lawyer in Los Angeles. A Los Angeles probate lawyer will generally be more familiar with the Los Angeles Superior Court Probate Division, versus an out of state attorney.

Have questions? Call right now. It’s totally free.

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About RMO Lawyers, LLP

RMO LLP provides personal and efficient inheritance dispute services to individual and institutional clients. The firm’s attorneys focus on probate litigation involving contested trust, estate, probate, and conservatorship matters. Serving California and Texas, with offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Orange County, San Diego, Fresno, the Bay Area, Dallas, and Houston. For more information, please visit

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About the Author

Meagan A. Paisley, Attorney

Meagan A. Paisley is an attorney with RMO LLP, where she leads the firm’s client relationship team.  In this role, Meagan guides clients and community team members with a warm, empathetic and attuned approach that provides a strategy and a sense of relief to those embroiled in emotional and complex probate, trust, estate, conservatorship and inheritance disputes.

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