Common costs in a California probate

After doing approximately 1,500 California probate estates, or “full probates,” I have a pretty good idea what the costs will be… but it’s still an approximation. Today I want to discuss the current costs and what you can expect.  Our probate cost calculator is a good start but remember it’s an approximation.

So first thing is first and you know this… the man has got to get paid and the man is Uncle Sam or, in this case, Uncle Gavin Newsom. The State of California Superior Court collects a filing fee of $435 which is on the statewide unified fee schedule. That fee schedule is officially called:  “Superior Court of California
Statewide Civil Fee Schedule” and can be found here.  The interesting thing is some counties charge add-on fees so the idea that there is any statewide uniformity is sort of a joke. Nonetheless, you will pay $435 to file a probate case in California and you will pay $435 to end the probate case when you file the final petition or final accounting.  Additionally in some cases other petitions are required and most counties charge $435 for each of those. Common other petitions would be: petition to determine heirship, petition for instructions, petition to confirm sale of real estate, status report. In a typical case you will pay $435 two times, and maybe a misc. county fee, so let’s call it about $900 in actual court costs in the typical California probate case.

The second fee you pay is the cost to publish in a local newspaper. I have talked about this before and I must say my feelings haven’t changed.  The only reason many old fashion, paper, newspapers stay in business is their fees to advertise things like probate, bankruptcy, and other such “legal notices.” In some places there is really only one newspaper that can be used and I know of at least one city where that cost is approximately $1,000.  However, let me backtrack and say a more typical cost is $200-300 for publication.  As you can see in my probate calculator I put down $200 but that’s at least 10 years old so let’s $300 for publication in the typical California probate case.

The next big fee is the probate referee. This is another one I have talked about before as in some cases I feel the probate referee is paid too much… but in other cases they are paid too little so I suppose it balances out.  The probate referee(s) for each county are state appointed officials. These are coveted positions. Their pay is 1/10th of 1% of all assets they appraise and they appraise all non-cash assets. Plus, they can charge some misc. fees for traveling to a property and the minimum is $75. So a $100,000 would be $100 in appraisal costs (1/10th of 1%) plus travel costs of maybe $25 or so.  As an estimate let’s just say a good estimate, for an average sized probate case, would be $500 to the probate referee.

Next we have lots of misc charges. They are small but every case has a few.  The courts all charge $25 for each certified copy of a document. Now some courts, and don’t laugh because this is true, they charge 50 cents for each page as a photocopy charge. I find this funny because the $25 charge is for a “certified copy” but I have to pay 50 cents for a “copy” before I can then make it a “certified copy!?”  Seems stupid to me. In any event it’s about $25 for each certification and you probably get 2-5 each case. You usually need a couple death certificates and sometimes a death certificate for a predeceased spouse or other deceased relative. Figure $20 for each death cert.  Let’s just say $200 in misc charges in a typical California probate. 

The total of all of the above, typical charges, is about $2,000. That’s generally my estimate when we start a probate case… unless I know the decedent lived in a city with a high publication cost or it’s a bigger estate so I know the probate referee will cost more. Each case is unique and it’s important you talk to an experienced California probate attorney so you can get a firm estimate of what your court costs will be.

Until next time….

-John Palley

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