Florida Probates can take a variety of different forms depending on the nature of the representation. Small Estate proceedings, called Summary Administrations are available if the deceased has been dead for over two years or alternatively if the total assets subject to the Florida probate administration are less than $75,000.00. In Florida the fees for a Summary Administration vary but will typically range from $1,500.00 to $3,500.00 depending on the nature of the assets, creditor claims, the number of beneficiaries and any complexities associated with getting the Last Will and Testament admitted to Probate Court in Florida.
The other type of Florida probate administration, called a “Formal Administration” involves the appointment of a Personal Representative to manage the affairs of the Estate and is required if the assets in question exceed $75,000.00 and the date of death is within two years. The fees for this type of case vary significantly and can range from $1,500 to tens of thousands of dollars. The reason for the huge variance is that the fee structure for a Florida Probate proceeding is set forth in Fla. Stat. 733.6171 which provides for a presumed reasonable fee based on the size of the Estate.
733.6171 Compensation of attorney for the personal representative.—
(1) Attorneys for personal representatives shall be entitled to reasonable compensation payable from the estate assets without court order.
(2) The attorney, the personal representative, and persons bearing the impact of the compensation may agree to compensation determined in a different manner than provided in this section. Compensation may also be determined in a different manner than provided in this section if the manner is disclosed to the parties bearing the impact of the compensation and if no objection is made as provided for in the Florida Probate Rules.
(3) Compensation for ordinary services of attorneys in formal estate administration is presumed to be reasonable if based on the compensable value of the estate, which is the inventory value of the probate estate assets and the income earned by the estate during the administration as provided in the following schedule:
(a) One thousand five hundred dollars for estates having a value of $40,000 or less.
(b) An additional $750 for estates having a value of more than $40,000 and not exceeding $70,000.
(c) An additional $750 for estates having a value of more than $70,000 and not exceeding $100,000.
(d) For estates having a value in excess of $100,000, at the rate of 3 percent on the next $900,000.
(e) At the rate of 2.5 percent for all above $1 million and not exceeding $3 million.
(f) At the rate of 2 percent for all above $3 million and not exceeding $5 million.
(g) At the rate of 1.5 percent for all above $5 million and not exceeding $10 million.
(h) At the rate of 1 percent for all above $10 million.
Generally, the larger the Estate the more attorney fees are presumed reasonable. The above referenced schedule is sometimes referred to as the “no look fee”, meaning that an attorney representing an Estate in Florida who charges based on the above referenced schedule will have a presumed reasonable entitlement to those fees. In addition to the scale above, fees for probate administration can also be in excess of the above referenced schedule if the attorney providing work for the Estate completed any of the following:
(a) Involvement in a will contest, will construction, a proceeding for determination of beneficiaries, a contested claim, elective share proceeding, apportionment of estate taxes, or any adversarial proceeding or litigation by or against the estate.
(b) Representation of the personal representative in audit or any proceeding for adjustment, determination, or collection of any taxes.
(c) Tax advice on postmortem tax planning, including, but not limited to, disclaimer, renunciation of fiduciary commission, alternate valuation date, allocation of administrative expenses between tax returns, the QTIP or reverse QTIP election, allocation of GST exemption, qualification for Internal Revenue Code ss. 6166 and 303 privileges, deduction of last illness expenses, fiscal year planning, distribution planning, asset basis considerations, handling income or deductions in respect of a decedent, valuation discounts, special use and other valuation, handling employee benefit or retirement proceeds, prompt assessment request, or request for release of personal liability for payment of tax.
(d) Review of estate tax return and preparation or review of other tax returns required to be filed by the personal representative.
(e) Preparation of the estate’s federal estate tax return. If this return is prepared by the attorney, a fee of one-half of 1 percent up to a value of $10 million and one-fourth of 1 percent on the value in excess of $10 million of the gross estate as finally determined for federal estate tax purposes, is presumed to be reasonable compensation for the attorney for this service. These fees shall include services for routine audit of the return, not beyond the examining agent level, if required.
(f) Purchase, sale, lease, or encumbrance of real property by the personal representative or involvement in zoning, land use, environmental, or other similar matters.
(g) Legal advice regarding carrying on of the decedent’s business or conducting other commercial activity by the personal representative.
(h) Legal advice regarding claims for damage to the environment or related procedures.
(i) Legal advice regarding homestead status of real property or proceedings involving that status and services related to protected homestead.
(j) Involvement in fiduciary, employee, or attorney compensation disputes.
(k) Proceedings involving ancillary administration of assets not subject to administration in this state.
Fla. Stat. 733.6171. Based on the above language the fees can even exceed the above referenced schedule if the lawyer engaged in any of the above referenced categories and petitions the Court for an increase in fees. Ultimately if you are the Client, the Personal Representative, in a Florida Probate proceeding understand that you have the right to negotiate a fee that is different from the schedule identified above. Further if you are a beneficiary and believe that you have been charged an excessive fee, the Florida Rules of Probate provide a mechanism for objecting to the attorney fees claim. If you pursue and objection ultimately the Probate judge will make the determination as to whether the fees are reasonable by looking at the work performed in the case against the backdrop of Fla. Stat. 733.6171 which further provides:
(5) Upon petition of any interested person, the court may increase or decrease the compensation for ordinary services of the attorney or award compensation for extraordinary services if the facts and circumstances of the particular administration warrant. In determining reasonable compensation, the court shall consider all of the following factors, giving weight to each as it determines to be appropriate:
(a) The promptness, efficiency, and skill with which the administration was handled by the attorney.
(b) The responsibilities assumed by and the potential liabilities of the attorney.
(c) The nature and value of the assets that are affected by the decedent’s death.
(d) The benefits or detriments resulting to the estate or interested persons from the attorney’s services.
(e) The complexity or simplicity of the administration and the novelty of issues presented.
(f) The attorney’s participation in tax planning for the estate and the estate’s beneficiaries and tax return preparation, review, or approval.
(g) The nature of the probate, nonprobate, and exempt assets, the expenses of administration, the liabilities of the decedent, and the compensation paid to other professionals and fiduciaries.
(h) Any delay in payment of the compensation after the services were furnished.
(i) Any other relevant factors.
FIND AFFORDABLE PROBATE REPRESENTATION
There is nothing wrong with asking about the attorney fees being charged in your case. The above referenced rates are just a backdrop. You can and should speak with your lawyer to understand whether the proposed fee structure is appropriate. Understand that your fee agreement and contract with your attorney form the basis of a partnership. A probate administration requires effort on behalf of the Personal Representative and the Attorney. That means you need to understand what your responsibilities will be and the work that your Lawyer will need to put into the Estate Administration. Our office handles hundreds of administrations each year. That gives us the advantage of being able to accurately anticipate time and attorney fees and to efficiently administer a large volume of estates. We also provide estimates for fees based on our time incurred in the case, not as a percentage of the Estate as set forth above. This allows our clients in both large and small estates to better understand what goes into the administration.
Our fees are typically significantly less than Florida’s probate fee schedule set forth above for large estates. We also offer reductions and work with our Clients to obtain payment from Estate assets or real estate sales depending on the circumstances of the case. If your struggling with the cost of a Florida probate proceeding, give us a call for a no obligation quote. We handle probate administration throughout every county in Florida.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog/website is for informational purposes only and provides general information about the law but not specific advice. This information should not be used as a substitute for advice from competent legal counsel as laws change and the facts in your specific case need to be analyzed.