In my life insurance practice, I work closely with an estate planning attorney. While I am not an attorney, I've learned quite a bit about probate. The following article discusses specifics of Michigan probate law, which is where I work, but the general gist of how probate works is similar in most states. Because probate laws and probate court costs and procedures do differ from state to state, seek the advice of a qualified probate/estate planning attorney in the state and county of your residence rather than assuming that this is exactly the same process in your home state.
What is probate?
In the year of 1463, "PROBATE" was defined as the "official proving of a will." Sounds simple, but if you've ever been involved in the process, you probably think differently.
Let's talk purely monetary costs. First, to open an estate, there is a filing fee of $150. Then, a death notice to creditors will be published. Cost: 35-75$. You'll then pay a probate inventory fee. The amount of that fee is based upon a sliding scale derived from the value of the estate. This can range from a low of five dollars to a high of $1,487.50.
If you're handling the probate administration yourself, you'll continue on. However, if you retain an attorney to handle the work for you, you'll likely be paying him/her on an hourly basis. Probate work is typically charged at $175/hour to $350/hour. Simple probate cases are typically billed at the lower end of the hourly pay scale with the total cost falling in the $2,000 to $5,000 range. Lengthy, contested probate cases are typically billed at the higher end of the hourly pay scale and can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
image: Last Will and Testament from Flickr by Ken Mayer